Warren Barnes is gone but not forgotten.
A victim of a senseless tragedy, murdered on Feb. 27. A gruesome death that doesn’t need to be rehashed on this day.
Warren Barnes didn’t have a roof over his head. As a homeless man, he was a recognizable figure in the downtown area. A friendly face who always had a welcoming and kind word to offer. A man who loved to read and feel the warm sun on his face.
Warren Barnes was homeless but he was part of a neighborhood, and many people around downtown were proud to call him their friend.
A 19-year-old man is in jail accused of his brutal murder. But this isn’t about that man or about the day Barnes was killed.
Saturday was about remembering Warren Barnes and bringing something special to downtown, just a few yards away from one of his favorite places to crack open a good book.
Allie Telinde used to work downtown.
“I would see Warren, and he would sit here,” she said pointing to Barnes’ favorite spot. “I saw him whenever I went in and out of my office. We became friends and I really loved him.”
This is when those memories take hold and her voice crack and the tears appear.
“It was horrible, shocking and awful. Honestly, he was the kindest person I’ve ever met, and to have that happen … ,” her voice drifted off as she looked at the memorial, then a smile returned. But the tears didn’t stop.
“Today is kind of bittersweet because he’s not here anymore.”
Telinde and others wanted to remember Barnes with a memorial, so she started the process with a social media message looking for a metal artist.
That’s when 39-year-old Tim Navin of Sparks Fly Studios in Fruita entered the picture. He volunteered his time to design and construct the memorial.
Barnes’ murder hit so close to home for Navin that he knew he had to get involved.
“I’m almost six years sober. I’ve been in his shoes, I’ve been homeless due to my addiction,” he said with complete openness.
The unveiling of the new Warren Barnes Memorial was a special day for many and a small crowd gathered in the breezeway between Monique’s Bridal and Formal Wear and Out West Books to pay tribute to a man who touched their lives.
AN EMOTIONAL DAY
Emotions were on full display with people dabbing away tears and sharing stories of how Barnes came into their lives.
The sculpture is a pure tribute to Barnes. A metal tree with dangling leaves and a wicker chair, like the one that business owners put out for him to sit and read, were mandatory parts of the design.
But it was the metal books that tugged at the heartstrings the most.
The immense detail that Navis and his business partner, Lyle Inman, dedicated to the book sculptures is impressive.
“I think they were the most important part,” Navin said, “I think the chair and books was how everything started. That’s really what so many people remember about Warren.”
The 69-year-old Barnes loved a variety of genres and loved a good classic Louie L’Amour western or a riveting mystery by David Baldacci.
Seeing the sculpture of the stacked books was what really brought memories flooding to Telinde.
“I knew I wanted a chair. I just wanted a place where people could come and remember him. Something permanent,” Telinde said. “This is really special. Warren was always reading.”
PRESSURE OF AN ARTIST
Navin admits that he felt pressure to capture the essence of a man who meant so much to the downtown community.
“It was a long, long road, there was a lot of weight on our shoulders, knowing what he meant to everybody in town,” he said.
It was Navin’s past and what he learned about Barnes that fueled Navin’s passion for the project. “I’ve never had anything fall into place like this. I made one little sketch in a notebook, then it just flowed.” he said. “I swear, Warren was in the shop there with me or something.
“Depending on what your faith is or what you believe in, it’s like Warren had a hand in helping me. I can’t get away from that part. It gives me chills.”
Part of the profound emotions and feelings Navin had during the project came when he reflected on his past.
“Piecing my life together over the last six years, I was able to step back in those shoes for a moment,” he said. “It’s been an interesting reflecting back on time and life wasted. But I’m really trying to look at it as time of growth.”
It’s those memories of his own difficult time and time on streets that leave Navin humbled to be part of this special project.
A LIFE NOT FORGOTTEN
He also makes it clear that Saturday was about Warren Barnes and the people who remember him best.
People like Monique Lanotti, owner of Monique’s Bridal and Formal Wear shop.
Saturday was also a bittersweet day for her and a day packed with emotional memories as she remembered the gracious, generous and pleasant man who she would spend time with outside her business.
It was behind her shop and behind Out West Books where Barnes would spend time on those sunny days contently reading the day away, lost in a good book, vicariously taken away to another time and place.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Lanotti said on Saturday. “I’m grateful, it’s really surreal. This gives me a place I can talk to him again. It means a lot that so many people came together. He has no idea how many people loved him.”
As she looked at the finished memorial, it was the chair with the stack of metal books attached to it that resonated with her. Dabbing tears, she smiled looking at this memorial to her friend’s memory.
“Anyone who knew Warren knew he was way more than just some homeless guy.”
Navin’s hope, along with the people who knew Barnes, is that the memorial will shed more of a light on humanity in general.
“I hope it’s a reminder that people who live on the streets are people and they have lives, and when they are gone, there are people who miss them,” Navin said.
For those whose lives were touched by Warren Barnes, there’s now something permanent to remember him.
A man who was more than just a homeless man. A friend who will always be missed for his willingness to embrace friendship and kindness.
There’s now a memorial to remind his friends and others that a man named Warren Barnes will not be forgotten and will always be missed.