Rape suspect dupes kind hearts after hurricane
Sentinel Staff Writer
September 18, 2005
LAFAYETTE, La. -- I met the man who would break a loving community's heart.
At the time, a masseuse at the Cajundome here was trying to relieve Louis Barron's grief, induced by the loss of his wife and two young daughters during Hurricane Katrina.
As the storm approached New Orleans, Barron told me, he begged his wife, Linda, to bring their children to the downtown Hyatt Hotel where he worked as a maintenance man.
She refused, assuring Barron they would be safe in their apartment. But she was wrong, and as the floodwaters rose, she spent her last moments making a family video and writing a loving letter to her husband, sealing them in a Ziploc bag.
"She told me, 'Now, we're going to be your angels,' " said Barron, 34.
When the police recovered the drowned bodies of his family, Barron said, his 3-year-old was clutching the bag.
I asked him if I could see it, but he explained that a friend had it for safekeeping. Then I tried to confirm Barron's story in other ways, but I could not. His address wasn't checking out after an Orlando Sentinel computer search. The same search for his wife came up empty.
The Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office was contacted, and six hours later Barron was arrested on a 7-year-old warrant from Dallas, where he's wanted on charges of aggravated rape.
When confronted, Barron admitted his story was a pack of lies. He is not married; he has no wife, no children. Detective Kip Judice isn't sure whether Barron worked at the Hyatt, but for now, he's keeping Barron's $2,000 assistance check from FEMA in his pocket.
Volunteers at the dome shelter, who adopted Barron and gave him a job as a security guard, were crushed. Their trust betrayed, some have second thoughts about helping others.
"I don't know if I'm upset, hurt or mad," said Carolyn Walker, a volunteer medic at the dome whose family took Barron to dinner and bought him new glasses, a watch and a haircut. "It makes me not want to believe."
But I know better. Walker will continue volunteering. And Acadiana will not forget its tradition of giving, forged by French settlers who were forced out of Nova Scotia in the 1700s and, like Katrina's victims, found refuge here.
In the past five years, this city of 110,000 barely gained a hundred new residents. But in the past two weeks, the capital of Cajun country has swelled by more than 40,000, changing its pulse and rhythm overnight.
The public schools have exploded with 3,600 new students, more than a 10 percent spike. The 4,800 hotel rooms are overflowing with evacuees and disaster workers. The grocery stores and streets are congested, the traffic patterns disrupted. Rentals are disappearing, the housing market is drying up, and private homes are filling with strangers and friends, old and new.
Yet the complaints are so few, the initiatives to accommodate so numerous, it's hard to imagine a more accepting place than Acadiana, the eight-parish region west of New Orleans known for its spicy gumbo and jambalaya and lively Creole and zydeco music.
I see the generosity everywhere I go -- in the religious community, where five pastors united 500 churches in a massive feeding and resettlement effort; in the schools, which have established buddy systems to help new students adjust; in the business community, which is holding forums to help small businesses relocate.
And in the arts community, which has launched Project Heal -- Helping Employ Artists Locally -- to keep displaced New Orleans musicians working.
Shortly before Barron's arrest late last week, I met band manager Veronica Randolph at a Lafayette Street Dance to raise money for displaced musicians. Her brother is Eddie Bo, a renowned pianist. But, like him, she is temporarily homeless.
For now, she lives with a friend's neighbor who, just days ago, was a complete stranger.
"There is goodness everywhere," Randolph said, and I know she's right.
Then I think of Barron, and I also know that crooks and scam artists lurk everywhere, too.