Alamance Authorities Probe Drug-Related Shootout That Left Teacher, 18-Year-Old Dead
A teacher and basketball coach at a Union County charter school was shot to death last week in what the Alamance County sheriff described Wednesday as a shootout at a drug cartel stash house that also killed an 18-year-old man.
Sheriff Terry Johnson described a graphic scene that unfolded at an Alamance County trailer park just after midnight last Thursday. Officers responded to reports of shots fired and found two men shot in a trailer: One dead and one dying.
One of them was Alonso Beltran Lara, 18, who the sheriff said had been bound and shot twice in the back of the head. He died at a hospital.
The other was Barney Dale Harris, who was dead of multiple gunshot wounds. The sheriff said he was wearing a bulletproof vest, a face covering and gloves.
"Numerous guns were used," Johnson said. "It was almost like an old Western shootout."
He said more than 30 shell casings were found at the scene.
Harris was a high school Spanish teacher at Union Academy Charter School in Monroe and had been head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball team for the last three seasons. After the sheriff’s news conference, the school released a statement saying staff and families are shocked and devastated, and declined to discuss his death further.
According to Johnson, Harris came to Alamance County to rob a trailer that serves as a stash house for the Sinaloa drug cartel. That cartel was once led by the notorious drug boss known as El Chapo. The sheriff described Lara as a drug runner for the cartel, and said Harris was apparently waiting in the trailer when Lara arrived.
A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said they have"a lot of evidence,” including cellphones, that lead them to believe that Harris and the others had been involved in robbing other stash houses of drugs and money in the past.
Investigators also seized five firearms, $7,000 in cash and 1.2 kilograms of suspected cocaine at the scene.
On Sunday, sheriff’s officers arrested Steven Alexander Stewart Jr. of Wadesboro. He’s been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and possession of a firearm by a felon. The sheriff said Stewart is Harris’ brother-in-law and the two "were following these cartel members and trying to figure out where the locations of their stashes were, where the money was, and would go in like a home invasion and try to take the monies and the drugs."
A Surge In Cocaine Trafficking
Johnson said drug trafficking is surging in the area, with more than $2.2 million in drug money and 129 kilos of cocaine seized since Feb. 19.
"We’ve never seen that much cocaine at one time in this county," Johnson said.
He said he isn't sure why, "but I can tell you Interstate 85 and Interstate 40 corridor has really caused Alamance County to be a great place to deposit their drugs and ship 'em elsewhere in North Carolina."
The Alamance County district attorney’s office has also issued a cocaine trafficking warrant for Juan Daniel Salinas Lara. Officials say he apparently lived in the trailer where the shootout happened, and that more arrests are expected.
For people who knew Harris as a beloved teacher, coach, husband and father, questions remain. A GoFundMe page set up for his family five days ago describes Harris as “a mentor, role model, and a great man of God.” Now, donations to that page have been disabled.
Harris' death was initially reported as a "death investigation" rather than a homicide. Johnson said the agency waited nearly a week to brief the public on the slayings due to the scope of the investigation and out of concern for the safety of family members since cartels were allegedly involved and "they don't forget."
"To this day, I'll tell you right now, as sheriff, I'm still worried about some retaliation," Johnson said. ".... They're going to pay somebody back somewhere, and that concerns me greatly as sheriff of this county."
The Alamance County Sheriff's Office is asking anyone with information on the case to call 336-570-6300.
Here's the full statement from the Alamance County Sheriff's Office.
WFAE's David Boraks also contributed to reporting this story.