RALEIGH — When Patrick L. Wooden Sr., pastor of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ, last saw Seanne Winters Barnette in church, she asked him to pray for her and her brother.
Family, friends, co-workers and church members honored Barnette, 55, during her funeral late Friday morning at the Upper Room in Southeast Raleigh.
The older brother she asked Wooden to pray for, 70-year-old John Winters Jr., is a suspect in her death after he reportedly told hospital workers in Virginia that he had an altercation with her and stabbed her.
Winters has not been charged with Barnette’s death, but he is in custody at the Wake County jail under a $1.5 million bail on charges that he stole his sister’s car. On Oct. 10, a Virginia state trooper found Winters inside Barnette’s PT Cruiser on the side of Interstate 95 south of Washington.
That trooper told Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings that Winters had a cut on his right hand and a knife in his possession that was consistent with the 50 stab wounds documented on his sister’s body.
The state trooper reported that Winters appeared “disoriented.”
Emergency workers transported Winters to a nearby hospital, where he told a doctor that he “had been in an altercation with his sister and stabbed her,” Cummings said.
Staff at the hospital began looking for someone in his family to notify that Winters was there. Family members knew he had been staying with Barnette and repeatedly tried to reach her at home. When they couldn’t, they asked police to check on her apartment.
On Oct. 12, officers found Barnette’s body in her bedroom with dried blood on and around her body. She was covered with an American flag.
‘A Triumphant Service’
About 200 mourners filled the pews of the Upper Room Church for a funeral titled in Barnette’s obituary as “A Triumphant Service of Love For A Triumphant Life.”
Barnette became a member of the church on March 14, 2004, and had received her deaconess license on Sept. 18 after graduating from the denomination’s Church of God In Christ Academy.
Wooden described her as a “missionary evangelist” and “powerful church worker” who prayed with a group of church members every Saturday morning in front of a Raleigh abortion clinic and who ministered to elderly residents once a month at Kindred Healthcare, a rest home on Sunnybrook Road.
“The unborn lost a powerful advocate,” Wooden said of her weekly sojourns to pray in front of Woman’s Choice of Raleigh on Drake Road. “The newborn are almost the least of us, but the newborn has a voice. It can cry. Seanne fought for those who had no voice at all.”
Wooden also praised Barnette’s work on behalf of the elderly.
“By serving the elderly, she was helping people who, in some cases, their families had forgotten,” he said. “Their bodies wracked with pain and suffering from the ravages of aging.”
Serving others came naturally to Barnette, and for some adults who grew up under her mentorship, she was the embodiment of the popular phrase “no child left behind.”
Barnette grew up just east of downtown Raleigh on Hargett Street and worked as a special education teacher in Wake and Durham counties. She taught children with special needs at Holt Elementary School in North Durham and, during the summers, helped run a camp at the school for children who had fallen behind academically.
‘Never looked’ for credit
Chakara Conyers, a Wake County employee who grew up in Raleigh, said Barnette was a community staple who never got credit for the good works she did for others “because she never looked for that.”
She said Barnette was a mentor to her and at least 20 other children on Hawkins Street in Southeast Raleigh in the early 1990s. Barnette, who lived alone at the time save for a little poodle named “FeFe,” helped the youngsters with homework, extracurricular activities and made sure they attended school and church events.
Conyers, now 31, still remembers when Barnette moved onto Hawkins Street 20 years ago. The children in the neighborhood helped her move some things in, and from that day on, the youngsters were always at her home. She gave them books and took them to community centers and after-school programs all over the city.
“She drove me to after-school, every day, for two years,” Conyers said Friday after the funeral. “She almost appeared as an angel neighbor, who changed a lot of my friends’ lives for the better. I took tae kwon do, played baseball, went to camps, played tennis and did ceramics – all with this woman's help.”
“She was a very sweet-hearted, loving woman,” said Dionne Johnson, who also teaches at Holt. “She was sort of like a grandmother. It was always ‘sweetheart’ and ‘Baby, what do you need?’ and ‘Come and sit and talk with me.’ The kids loved her.”
Winters and Barnette were the children of John Winters Sr., a real estate and insurance company owner who, in 1961, was the first African-American elected to the Raleigh City Council and was later elected to the state Senate.
John Winters Jr. also worked in real estate and tried to follow his father into politics with an unsuccessful run for U.S. Congress in 1984.
Wooden, the Upper Room pastor, stood in the pulpit of his church, just above a gleaming, cobalt-blue and gray coffin with a spray of white flowers draped across the top. An oversized picture of a smiling Barnette was on one side of the coffin.
“There are two conversations going on about Seanne,” the pastor said. “There is talk about her life. And there is talk about her tragic end. The news reports of how she left here, it doesn’t seem to add up. It makes no sense. It’s meaningless. … But where she is now makes sense.”