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Suicides of rifle coach, former student left many unanswered questions


FORT COVINGTON — Active in school plays and chorus. Played the flute and violin. Sang in the community chorus. Member of the Snow Ridge ski team and her school's rifle and swim teams.

Everyone at South Lewis Central High School knew Emily M. Anderson. She did volunteer work, was a horse lover and helped grow and sell produce at her grandparents' greenhouse.

But what her classmates didn't know was that Emily and her rifle coach were more than just student and teacher.

Former South Lewis science teacher Bryan F. Barney was arrested Aug. 24 and charged with having sexual relations with a child under age 15. Released on bail, Mr. Barney returned to his home in Franklin County and killed himself the next day.

The community wondered who Mr. Barney's victim was. A South Lewis student who asked not to be identified said some schoolmates were aware that Emily had an “older friend,” but never made the connection with Mr. Barney.

The story of the illicit relationship spread quickly, and when Emily returned to South Lewis in September, she was the subject of teasing and bullying, said the student.

As the weeks passed, the teasing lessened, the student said.

But on Dec. 12, Emily Anderson, 15, president of her sophomore class, killed herself. Her friends had seen nothing that indicated suicidal behavior.

“If we only knew,” her schoolmate said.

Three months after Emily shot herself, the story remains one that everyone knows about around Turin, but nobody wants to discuss publicly. Law enforcement officials will provide few details about the case that never went to trial, and Emily's parents, Randy and Sarah Anderson, declined to be interviewed. School Superintendent Douglas E. Premo would not comment, aside from offering continued condolences to the Anderson family. And, since the high school sophomore did not leave a suicide note, according to sources, her thought process before killing herself is not known.

But the sequence of events about the investigation has led to questions about who knew what and when.


Bryan F. Barney was born May 25, 1977, in Massena, the son of Fay and Brenda Bennett Barney of Fort Covington. He graduated from Salmon River Central School in 1995 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from Norwich University, Northfield, Vt., in 1999.

Through his high school and college years, he competed in the Empire State Games and represented New York at the National Junior Olympics, placing 29th in the nation for target rifle. At Norwich, he was team captain of his shooting team and an NCAA Academic All-American in 1998 and 1999.

He then earned a master's degree in education from St. Lawrence University in Canton in 2002.

Mr. Barney started teaching in Crown Point and then was hired as a middle school science teacher at South Lewis in 2008. He immediately became coach of the rifle team, and he also joined the Elks Lodge, according to his obituary.

Mr. Barney, who was single, resigned from South Lewis in June 2010. He then moved to Franklin County and became a substitute teacher at Salmon River High School.

But a year after he left South Lewis, deputies received allegations that Mr. Barney was having sex with a minor. Last August, Mr. Barney was arrested and brought back to Lewis County and charged with one count each of second-degree rape and second-degree criminal sexual act.

In arrest papers, deputies alleged that the sexual activity began in the spring of 2010 and continued after Mr. Barney left the district. They noted that none of the alleged activities occurred on school grounds.

Released on bail, Mr. Barney was found dead the next day at his home in Franklin County.

The timing of Mr. Barney's relationship with Emily in the spring of 2010 and his resignation from South Lewis a few months later has led to speculation that the school district knew about the affair.

An anonymous letter to the Times alleges that the district allowed him to resign rather than call the police, which would have been a violation of state education laws.

Mr. Premo said he was not aware of the relationship until he was contacted by law officers in July and that Mr. Barney resigned the year before “for other reasons.”

A source not connected to South Lewis but familiar with Mr. Barney's work history told the Times that his problems at South Lewis stemmed from classroom performance. Another source in Franklin County said Mr. Barney had already lost his position as a substitute teacher at Salmon River prior to his suicide.


The death of South Lewis's rising star is still fresh in the mind of her former classmate.

“I've never seen my school that quiet the day after,” said the student. “It was surreal.”

Even now, a few months later, “Every day, it's like (you realize) she's still not going to be there,” the student said. “But each day gets a little better.”

There were three reported suicides in Lewis County in 2011, according to the county Public Health Agency.

“That's three too many,” said Carol A. Paluck, director of the county agency.

The Suicide Prevention Center of New York State says that as many as one in six people will become seriously suicidal at some point in their lives, although the crises that cause those thoughts are usually temporary.

Several hotlines are available for help. They include the Lewis County Community Mental Health Center at 376-5450 or 376-5200 for evenings and weekends, Samaritan Medical Center at 785-4516, Mobile Crisis Services of North Country Transitional Living Services at 782-2327 and Reachout of St. Lawrence County at 265-2422.

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