CARROLL COUNTY, Miss. — Marlee Jones Barnhill was effervescent the afternoon of March 1 as she prepared to celebrate her 27th birthday.
“I’m in such a good mood guys, can you tell?” Barnhill says in a Facebook Live video she recorded as she put on makeup at her Mississippi home. “Tonight, I’m going to one of my really good friends’ houses. We’re going to karaoke and sit on her back porch and just hang out.”
Barnhill at one point addresses her husband, Michael, off-screen, asking him to put their dogs up. Before signing off, she offered her audience a final goodbye: “I hope y’all have a great night. Be safe, whatever you’re doing.
“We’re going to be safe.”
Less than eight hours later, Barnhill was dead, as were Brooks and Jim Harrell, the friends who hosted her birthday celebration. According to the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Michael Barnhill, 30, of Winona, is accused of gunning down his wife and their friends in a drunken rage after his wife took his keys to keep him from driving in that condition.
"Marlee was trying to do the right thing to protect his life and the lives of other drivers," Carroll County Sheriff Clint Walker said in a statement released to the media following Michael Barnhill's first court appearance March 4.
Michael Barnhill is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. According to WLBT in Jackson, he is being held without bond in the Carroll-Montgomery County Regional Correctional Facility in Vaiden.
The shooting took place just before midnight at the Harrells' home on Carroll County Road 135 between Carrollton and Greenwood, the Clarion-Ledger reported. Walker said there was no evidence of drug use or even much drinking at the party "other than that done by Michael Barnhill to excess."
Michael Barnhill became belligerent and got "angry and combative" as friends and his wife discouraged his behavior, the sheriff said.
Marlee Barnhill held onto his keys to keep him from trying to drive away in their truck, Walker said. When she would not give him the keys, Michael Barnhill went to the vehicle and retrieved a .40-caliber handgun.
He returned to the house, where he angrily slapped a cigarette from his wife's hand and shot her in the chest, the Clarion-Ledger said.
Jim Harrell was shot when he tried to help Marlee Barnhill, Walker said in his statement. Brooks Harrell was shot as she ran to help her husband and her friend.
Two other women at the party witnessed the triple homicide and ran upstairs to a bedroom where a 10-year-old child was asleep. The Clarion-Ledger reported that the women, Mauri Suggs and Amber Garrard, barricaded themselves into a closet with the child, who WLBT identified as one of the Harrells' two sons, to protect him.
The Clarion-Ledger reported two of the victims died at the scene. Brooks Harrell died in an ambulance on the way to a helicopter prepared to take her to Jackson for treatment.
Walker said Michael Barnhill, who had left the scene after the shooting, returned while deputies were there, “acting as though he did not know what had happened,” the newspaper reported. The surviving partygoers were able to identify him as the shooter.
Michael Barnhill then tried to flee the scene and deputies had to use a Taser to subdue him, Walker said.
The sheriff commended each of the victims and the survivors, who he said “all thought of other people before themselves” in the most difficult moment of their lives.
"Each victim of this crime acted out of care and concern for the welfare of others," Walker said, according to the Clarion-Ledger. "Marlee tried to keep Michael Barnhill and those he might come into contact with safe by preventing him driving drunk. Jim Harrell acted in defense of Marlee. Brooks Harrell tried to render aid to her husband. Mauri Suggs and Amber Garrard acted to protect a defenseless child, and to warn the deputies of the danger they were facing. Our deputies remembered and acted upon their training to protect those remaining and subdue the suspect."
Suggs on March 2 posted a photo on Facebook of herself with Marlee Barnhill. She said the image was taken "30 minutes before (their) lives were turned upside down."
“I love this beautiful sole (sic) so much,” Suggs wrote.
Marlee Barnhill’s friends remembered her for her smile and personality. State Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, told the Clarion-Ledger he is a friend of her family and has known her since she was a child.
“She was just a young lady who dedicated her life to helping others,” Oliver said. “She had a sweet personality, just a precious soul.”
Administrators at Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital, where Marlee Barnhill worked, remembered her, as well, saying they were grateful for the time they had with her.
"Marlee's smile was infectious," hospital officials said on its Facebook page. "She touched the lives of her patients and co-workers with kindness and joy that will never be forgotten. Our THMH family was blessed to have had her on our team."
Marlee Barnhill also sold makeup for Younique. It was on her brand Facebook page, Get Glamorous with Marlee, that she posted her final video.
Other Younique representatives dedicated makeup tutorials to Marlee Barnhill after her death.
Barnhill's obituary describes her as a beautiful soul who was always smiling.
“She loved her family, her dog, Bella, Younique makeup and ‘going live’ with her makeup videos,” the obituary reads.
Her obituary lists her name as Marlee Marie Jones. There is no mention of her husband.
Like Marlee Barnhill, Brooks Harrell was a nurse. Jim Harrell was a land surveyor, according to their joint obituary.
"Both loved the Lord, their church and music, which was evident by their devoted participation in worship and education at the Cruger Baptist Church, where they were members," the obituary reads. "She played the bass guitar and sang while he played the guitar for their praise team. Likewise, they both shared their talent teaching children in the pre-school department.
“Jim loved hunting and fishing and shared many hours together with his oldest son, Allen. He also enjoyed spending time with his youngest son, Trace, on the baseball field. He assisted coaching his team at Stribbling Park and on the Delta Storm travel team.
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