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Former Boeing whistleblower found dead from apparent ‘self-inflicted’ gunshot wound

CNN  —  A former longtime Boeing employee who had raised serious concerns about the company’s production standards was found dead in Charleston, South Carolina, over the weekend, according to the Charleston County Coroner’s Office. A news release from the Charleston County Coroner’s Office said John Barnett, 62, died on March 9, from “what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.” The city’s police department says detectives are investigating the case and “awaiting the formal cause of death, along with any additional findings that might shed further light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Barnett.” A statement provided to CNN by his lawyers says, “John was in the midst of a deposition in his whistleblower retaliation case, which finally was nearing the end. He was in very good spirits and really looking forward to putting this phase of his life behind him and moving on. We didn’t see any indication he would take his own life. No one can believe it. We are all devasted [sic]. We need more information about what happened to John. The Charleston police need to investigate this fully and accurately and tell the public what they find out. No detail can be left unturned.” His family told NPR the case was heading to trial in June, adding that Barnett was, “looking forward to having his day in court and hoped that it would force Boeing to change its culture.” The statement from his attorneys Robert Turkewitz and Brian Knowles described Barnett as “a brave, honest man of the highest integrity. He cared dearly about his family, his friends, the Boeing company, his Boeing co-workers, and the pilots and people who flew on Boeing aircraft. We have rarely met someone with a more sincere and forthright character.” A police incident report says officers were dispatched to conduct a welfare check at a Holiday Inn in Charleston shortly before 10:20 am on Saturday. When they arrived, responding officers found Barnett in the driver’s seat of a truck in the parking lot, with a gunshot wound to the head. He was holding a handgun. Barnett was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The police report also said there was a piece of paper found next to him that looked like a note. The incident report noted that the hotel had received a phone call from a “Rob,” who requested the welfare check on “his coworker John Barnett,” which led hotel employees to the truck in the parking lot. The BBC reported that Barnett was in Charleston for legal interviews and was scheduled for additional questioning on Saturday. He was found dead after failing to appear. When reached for comment regarding Barnett’s death, Boeing issued a statement saying, “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.” A statement from Charleston police indicated the department was aware the case has generated international attention, saying, “it is our priority to ensure that the investigation is not influenced by speculation but is led by facts and evidence. Given the sensitive nature of the investigation, we are unable to participate in media interviews at this time. This stance is not unique to this case but is a standard procedure we adhere to in order to preserve the integrity of active investigations.” Barnett, a former quality manager who had worked at Boeing for decades, had “discovered clusters of metal slivers hanging over the wiring that commands the flight controls,” according to a 2019 New York Times report cited by CNN. Barnett told the Times that if those “sharp” slivers “penetrated” the wiring, the result could be “catastrophic.” “As a quality manager at Boeing, you’re the last line of defense before a defect makes it out to the flying public,” Barnett told the Times. “And I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.” In a statement sent to the plant’s employees and provided to CNN at the time, Brad Zaback, a site leader at the plant and general manager of the 787 program, said the Times’ report “paints a skewed and inaccurate picture of the program and of our team (at the plant).” Zaback, who said the Times declined an invitation to visit the plant, said “quality is the bedrock of who we are,” adding that the plant delivers “the highest quality airplanes.”