Crime

She lost two children to bullets, seven years apart: ‘My family is slowly disappearing’

Grieving mom: “They always say don’t question God. But my family is slowly disappearing.”

In the past seven years an Opa-locka’s Gladiest Barnes has lost two children to gunfire. She wants police and politicians to pay more attention.
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In the past seven years an Opa-locka’s Gladiest Barnes has lost two children to gunfire. She wants police and politicians to pay more attention.

Quantia Golden loved planning parties. For her mom’s 50th birthday she coordinated a big shindig at a Hialeah ballroom. Thanksgiving for her large family was always at her home. The weekend after Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree went up.

This year, Golden will miss Christmas.

Four days after Thanksgiving, Golden and her 13-year-old daughter drove a friend to a home in Opa-locka. Golden, a 33-year-old medical assistant and pregnant mother of three, wound up shot to death — an apparent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For Gladiest Barnes, her daughter’s death cut a deep and all-too familiar wound. Two of her seven children have now been lost to gun violence. Her son Donald Jones, just 20, was murdered more than seven years ago while sitting on a porch stoop. Someone stepped out from behind a garbage can and shot him once in the body, then walked up behind him and a put another bullet into his head.

Three days later Jones awoke briefly, Barnes at his side.

“He woke up and said I want to go home,” Barnes said, during an interview in her North Miami-Dade home. “I said, ‘you’ve got to get better first, baby.’ He said no mamma, I wanna go home. He wanted to be with the Lord.”

Jones’ shooter has never been captured. Police haven’t said much about Golden’s murder, other than that they don’t believe she was the initial intended target.

Golden was killed Monday when two gunmen opened fire on an Opa-locka home, then turned and noticed Golden and her teenage daughter C’Lexus in a white car behind them. The men blasted away again, police believe with the aim of eliminating any witnesses. Golden died on the spot. The bullet that hit C’Lexus entered near her shoulder and exited out her back. She’s since been released from the hospital.

Outside Barnes’ home last week, life went on as normal. Kids ran in and out of a fenced-in yard as vehicles rumbled past the home on the Palmetto Expressway just overhead. Inside, adults sat around a half-decorated Christmas tree, sharing stories and drink and watching television. The smell of food filled the air.

Then a piece on Golden’s shooting death appeared on a local television station and the room erupted in anger, then went quiet in rapt attention. It was difficult for Barnes to contain her sorrow but she gathered herself to try to put an unbearable feeling of loss into words.

“They always say don’t question God,” she said. “But my family is slowly disappearing. At least that’s what it seems like. Ask me how many children I have and I’ll always say seven.”

She also expressed the bitter frustration shared by many parents in poor, mostly minority sections of Miami-Dade who have lost children to shootings over the years. Many believe police and politicians haven’t done enough to bring killers to justice or improve community safety.

Barnes said she paid attention to the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland and felt horrible for the kids and their families. But it was impossible, she said, not to compare the media and political attention to that horrible spasm of gunfire in white suburbia to the reaction to chronic gun violence in mostly black Opa-locka or Liberty City, two of Miami-Dade’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

“Our community is neglected. The killers are killing innocent people. The politicians, when they run for office, they make all these promises. But the only time police are around is when something happens. The police, they haven’t really talked to me yet about Quantia.”

Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said Barnes is right, the media isn’t going to give the same spotlight to a shooting in a neighborhood wracked with crime compared to wealthy Parkland where it’s such a rarity. But he also defended the efforts of law enforcement. He said so far this year, Miami-Dade police have made arrests in 75 percent of the 76 homicides committed in the county.

Major crimes in Miami-Dade, for the most part, continue to follow the national downward trend. At the same point last year there were 93 homicides in Miami-Dade and only 55 percent of them had been solved.

Still, Perez said, “You can’t convince a parent who has lost a child to gunfire that everything is being done until there is an arrest.”

Opa-locka, a central Dade city of 18,000 people, with its depleted budget and downsized police department, remains a sore spot. It has one of the lowest clearance rates of all Miami-Dade cities for all crimes combined, at less than 10 percent. Miami-Dade police investigate Opa-locka’s homicides.

State legislator and minority leader Oscar Braynon II, a Democrat who represents Miami Gardens and Opa-locka, said getting fellow legislators to listen to concerns about gun violence in the neighborhoods he represents has been a major frustration since the day he was elected.

Braynon, who lives in Miami Gardens, echoed Barnes’ concerns and he said he will continue to fight for an assault weapons ban, background checks and for the state to invest money in mental health aid for those who have lost family members. Braynon said he received blowback when he mentioned after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting that his own community deals with the trauma of gun violence on an everyday basis.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs at an empty room,” Braynon said about dealing with fellow legislators when it comes to gun reforms. “I want [them] to understand how [they] feel [after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting] is the frustration I feel when it happens to me. It’s an ongoing fight for me. I’m not somewhere else. I’m here.”

Some who have gone through what Barnes is enduring have reached out to her. She spoke at length with Tangela Sears, who also lost a child to gunfire and who coordinates a group called Parents of Murdered Children. Sears said it’s not uncommon to have more than 50 parents at her weekly meetings. The group helps grieving parents pair with advocates and offers a soundboard for those in need.

As for Barnes’ concern about not receiving enough attention, Sears chalks it up to a lack of media coverage, overburdened policing agencies and invisible politicians. Sears said she’s still dealing with a mother who lost a child to gunfire the same day as the Parkland tragedy. The child’s death never made the news, Sears said.

“It seems as though that when it comes to our community, it’s just silence,” she said. “The media is not engaged. Leadership is not engaged. It’s just another killing. They bury a child and for a year or two they don’t hear from anyone.”

Since Golden’s death, Barnes has gone out of her way to make sure her child will not be forgotten. She’s granted repeated interviews and allowed media to enter her home and meet with family.

Golden, married and a mother of three, graduated from American Senior High School. A decade ago she attended a vocational training school with her mother that helped land them jobs with the same doctor’s office in Miami Shores. Barnes is the office manager. Her daughter was a medical assistant in charge of billing.

The day her life ended, Golden arrived at work at 7 a.m. and clocked out at 6:14 p.m. She picked up her best friend and her daughter and headed to the friend’s Opa-locka home to retrieve some food. Barnes said the friend had been inside the home less then three minutes when gunfire erupted.

“Two people came from down the street,” Barnes said. “They shot the home up, turned around and saw them in the car. She covered her baby to stop her from getting shot.”

Barnes said when her granddaughter called to say there had been a shooting, she ran red lights to get there. Golden’s husband Johnny Golden also showed up, but left shortly after because it was too painful. Barnes said she waited until her daughter’s car was towed away by the medical examiner before she left the scene. She called her daughter’s children but they were crying so hard she couldn’t understand them.

Even as a child, Barnes said, Golden acted beyond her years. She always took care of her brothers and sisters and friends, often cooking for them. In addition to her three kids, Golden also cared for a niece and a nephew.

“She was the parent when I wasn’t the parent,” said Barnes.

Barnes and other family members said Golden loved to shop and to have parties for her kids. And she loved Publix cakes.

“This is her season,” said cousin Bridgett Hayes. “You come into the house Christmas Day and you can’t even get into the house because there are so many gifts.”

Family members said they’re not certain Golden’s children, 9, 10 and 13, truly understand yet that their mother is gone forever. But Golden’s 19-year-old stepdaughter Janaih Golden seemed pretty clear-headed earlier this week.

“They took my stepmom away from me and justice needs to be served,” she said.

Barnes said she wasn’t feeling well the day her daughter was killed and that Golden urged her not to go to work. She didn’t listen — and she’s glad for that.

“But by the Grace of God I’m so glad I went,” said Barnes. “It was the last time I got to see my baby.”

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