Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Msgr: Homeless man, fatally beaten, had generous heart

Robert "Bobby" Barnes had a laugh that could fill a room, a heart generous enough to give away his winter coat, a love for his family and a stubborn streak.

Robert "Bobby" Barnes had a laugh that could fill a room, a heart generous enough to give away his winter coat, a love for his family and a stubborn streak.

On Saturday, about 50 mourners gathered at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Manayunk to honor the 51-year-old homeless man who died Nov. 25 - more than seven months after he was savagely beaten by three women and at least three juveniles at a gas station in Olney.

Charges against two of his alleged adult attackers were upgraded to murder late last week, according to public records. Another adult and three juveniles were also charged in the brutal attack.

"We gather today in grief but also out of love," said Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME, which arranged the funeral service.

Barnes grew up in Roxborough, worked as a roofer with his father's company and a landscaper in Connecticut, family said.

He was also an alcoholic and, at times, lived on the streets of Philadelphia, according to Diane Barnes, his sister.

"Bobby was happy," Diane Barnes said. "It probably was a struggle every day but he loved life."

Debbie Barnes, 48, another sister said after the funeral that she regrets she would never be able to tell her brother that their mother, Rose Ann, died in July of complications from heart surgery.

"He was entitled to that," she said, at a reception after the service.

A large heart-shaped floral arrangement of white carnations and red roses stood next to his urn at the church altar. Nearby, posters filled with photos showed Barnes throughout his life. There were his Holy Family Parish School photo, ones of him with family at Wildwood during the summers, and pictures with his parents, sisters and brother, and other family members.

"When he did have an apartment, he was always quick to open the door to people who had greater needs," said Monsignor Kevin Lawrence, who officiated at the service. As tough as his life was, Barnes never forgot to help others, said Lawrence.

There were times he only had the clothes on his back and his headphones for music but that was enough for him, his niece, Ashley O'Leary, told the congregation. "He was just grateful to wake up every day."

On April 7, about 6:40 p.m. police said Barnes was savagely beaten outside a Sunoco station on 5th Street and Somerville Avenue.

He had been helping motorists pump gas at the station. A youth at the station who was also pumping gas said he and Barnes got into an argument. The child went home and told relatives that Barnes had hit him.

The boy's mother, two of her friends and at least three juveniles were accused of returning to the Sunoco station. A surveillance video captured the assault, showing Barnes being beaten with a hammer and the leg of a rocking chair and sprayed with Mace. He suffered multiple skull fractures and broken bones, police said.

Barnes remained in a vegetative state after having emergency surgery. When his condition deteriorated, Barnes was transferred from a long-term care facility to Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health, where he died. His death was ruled a homicide late last month by the Montgomery County Coroner's Office.

Shareena Joachim, 23, and Kaisha Duggins, 24, both originally charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy and other related crimes, have now been charged with murder; attempted murder charges have been added against Aleathea Gillard, 34, who was already facing aggravated assault, conspiracy, and other crimes in the attack on Barnes. It was Gillard's 10-year-old son who told police Barnes hit him. Evidence showed he lied, according to evidence.

Three juveniles - two are Gillard's children and the third a friend - pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy charges in June, and were sentenced to juvenile treatment facilities.

Debbie Barnes said her brother never would have harmed a child. She said her brother lived with her in East Haven, Ct., when he wasn't drinking, she said, and would help babysit her children and even help them with their homework.

In April, Debbie Barnes went looking for her brother but didn't find him. She was ready to bring him back to Connecticut.

"The next day, he got beat up," she said.

Sam Santiago, an outreach coordinator with Project HOME, said he will never forget how Bobby Barnes greeted him when they met on the street.

"He always remembered my name," said Santiago.

Barnes was fiercely loyal to another older homeless man known as "Pops," said Santiago. The two would hang out and panhandle together, and were always very polite, he said.

"If I gave him something,and he didn't need it, he'd give it to someone else," said Santiago. Bobby Barnes was always worried about everyone else's needs, he said.

A GoFundMe page was set up by the family to help cover the cost of Barnes' funeral. By Saturday night, a little more than $2,500 had been raised. Any remaining money will be used to provide boots for the homeless, Diane Barnes said.

"He always asked me if he could get boots," she said.