Answers missing:‘It’s just as hard now as the day it happened’

Published 1:47 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Six years to the day after family members last saw Angela Schultz Shiers Barrentine alive, her mother questions whether anyone will ever be charged with her death, and authorities have no answers.

“I gave up hope,” said Deborah Cummins, who believes her daughter’s death was a drug-related murder, though authorities have not proved that.

“Until we have definite answers, we will not rule anything out, and we still have more questions than we have answers,” Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said Tuesday. “We do have some information that we are not going to release because it would be counterproductive to the investigation.”

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The reward for information leading to an arrest in the case has grown to $6,500, as Central Mississippi Crime Stoppers has increased its share to $2,500 to go along with $4,000 from family members who want desperately to know what happened to Barrentine, who is believed to have been killed on Thanksgiving Day 2004.

“I prayed that God would just let me find her,” said Stacy Hartley, Barrentine’s sister, who knocked on doors, asked questions and searched until Barrentine’s submerged truck holding her remains was discovered in the Big Black River near the Bovina train bridge on Aug. 2, 2005. “But it wasn’t good enough. Now I want to know who, and why and how.”

Pace, who has worked on the case with deputies, the Vicksburg Police Department, the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department and investigators from the FBI and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, would not say if suspects have been identified or discuss results of examinations performed on the remains.

“As with any investigation, you never want to show all of your cards,” he said. Hinds County investigators, also on the case for six years, said today they have no leads and no new information.

The family last saw Barrentine around 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 24, 2004. Her grandparents, Buster and Cissie Schultz, went to her Vicksburg home to make sure she would be at their home the next day for Thanksgiving dinner.

Barrentine, then 27, the mother of a 9-year-old girl and recently remarried, was cooking dinner. She told the grandparents who helped raise her that she would be there. She never arrived.

The next day, Hartley and Cummins reported her missing to Vicksburg police.

Eventually, it was learned that Barrentine, who had struggled with drug addiction since her teen years, had gone to Edwards that Wednesday night, after the Schultzes’ visit, returned to her home to get money and drove back to Edwards. She never went back to her home.

Witnesses in Edwards placed Barrentine at Belknap and Military roads driving her 1997 Ford F-150 pickup around 11:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.

Many others were questioned, and some were subjected to polygraph and other tests, including Barrentine’s husband of about six weeks, Daniel. Then-VPD deputy chief Richard O’Bannon said at the time that Daniel Barrentine agreed to a voice stress test and the results indicated he was being honest with police.

Over the years, new investigators have been put on the case to see it through fresh eyes but no one has been able to rule out the possibility of an accident. The area where Barrentine’s truck is presumed to have entered the Big Black is a small parking area along a dirt portion of Warriors Trail, and the river was high and close to the road at the time she disappeared.

But Hartley and Cummins believe Barrentine was on her way to the family dinner when she was either lured to the site at Warriors Trail and killed or killed first and driven to the river in the truck.

Hartley said she would like to see the case reopened and investigated as if it happened yesterday. She has questions she won’t ask publicly for fear they’ll raise issues that would impede the investigation.

Cummins agrees.

“I just don’t believe this case was handled right from day one,” she said. Some of the investigators seemed to believe Barrentine’s disappearance translated into one less drug addict they had to deal with rather than a mother, a daughter and a sister, she said.

“She was an addict,” Hartley said. “She wasn’t a dealer. An addict has a problem. The dealer is the one who is out pushing it to kids, and users. The dealer’s one of the bad people, in my eyes.”