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Officer found shot is an apparent suicide

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2006

A 20-year Metropolitan Police Department officer assigned to the city's Public Safety Communications Center was found dead in a second-floor restroom yesterday from what police are describing as a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

Officer Francesca Barnes, 43, had been assigned to the center for 18 years. She worked as a dispatcher and a call-taker, then was assigned as a transcriber for the past three years. The transcribers prepare audio tapes for court cases and Freedom of Information Act requests.

"She was very talented, very reliable," said her supervisor, Inspector J.O. Crane. "She was very good at trying to extract that kind of audio evidence that you need in court cases."

Officer Barnes' husband is a retired D.C. police officer.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, a department spokesman, said some employees at the center -- which handles the 911 emergency calls for the police and fire departments -- heard a single gunshot at about noon.

He also said Officer Barnes, a sworn officer, was authorized to wear her service revolver inside the secure center, on McMillan Drive in Northwest.

The restroom in which she was found was in an administrative area on the second floor, a level above the operations floor on which calls are received and dispatched.

E. Michael Latessa, the director of the Office of Unified Communications, said the incident did not interrupt the handling of emergency calls.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee that has oversight of the police department and communications office, visited the scene yesterday.

He said Officer Barnes was "very outgoing, known and liked throughout the facility" and that coworkers were "fairly shocked."

Mr. Mendelson said he did not have all the details of the incident but that employees told him Officer Barnes was distraught yesterday morning. However, nobody thought she was suicidal.

Sources said Officer Barnes might have been upset about a family issue.

A witness said Officer Barnes locked herself in the bathroom and could be heard talking inside.

Other sources said employees thought the shot was noise from a training exercise, until they got word to dispatch an ambulance to their address to aid a shooting victim.

Officer Barnes is the second District officer in less than two weeks to die in an apparent suicide.

Sgt. Robert Schoonover, 35, an eight-year veteran who recently had been promoted to sergeant and transferred to the 5th Police District in Northeast, was found dead in Rock Creek Park from a self-inflicted gunshot wound Jan. 21.

"We are a family," Sgt. Gentile said. "When we lose a member of the family, it is painful."