GREEN LEVEL, N.C. -- A popular Charlotte-area teacher was killed in shootout with a Mexican drug cartel last week in Alamance County, North Carolina, the sheriff's office said during a news conference Wednesday.
Barney Harris, a basketball coach at Union Academy in Monroe, was well-loved and respected, but Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said, on the side, Harris was involved in the "dangerous and deadly" drug world.
"I can tell you right now, when we are dealing with the Mexican drug cartel, someone is going to die as a result of this," Johnson said.
Police said Harris and his brother-in-law Steven Alexander Stewart, of Wadesboro, went to a mobile home park on Wyatt Road in Green Level in the early morning hours of April 8 to steal money and drugs from a Mexican cartel's stash house.
Authorities said the duo broke into a trailer and a member of the cartel, 18-year-old Alonso Beltran Lara, showed up while they were inside. Johnson said the men questioned Lara about the stash and when he didn't give them the answers they wanted, they shot him in the head.
"And they were trying to find the money and drugs and apparently he didn't give them the information to do that and he was technically close range, two bullets to the back of the head, he was executed," Johnson said.
After the shooting, other cartel members showed up and gunfire erupted -- killing Harris, who was found dead in a bedroom. No one else was injured but three other trailers were struck by bullets, Johnson said.
The residents of those homes "were totally scared to death," he said.
"Mr. Harris, he had a bulletproof vest on, but it did not work with the kind of ammunition that was used," Johnson said. "He had gloves on, and he, they went there to do what was done except they did not think it was going to backfire on them."
Johnson said there is an active warrant out for trafficking cocaine for Juan Daniel Salinas Lara, who lived at the trailer. The sheriff did not say whether the Laras were related but said Daniel Lara may be in Mexico now.
Detectives said they believe Harris and Stewart tracked members of the cartel using an electronic device before the shootout. Johnson said Harris had been in Alamance County before, based on footage found on his cellphone.
Stewart, who is married to Harris' sister, was arrested and has since been charged with armed robbery and first-degree murder.
WSOC reported that Harris was hired by Union Academy Charter School in July 2017 as a high school Spanish teacher and served as the head coach for the varsity men's basketball team and varsity men's track team.
"It's just hard to understand," Johnson said. "The fact that someone like Mr. Harris, who apparently had a pretty good life as a teacher and a coach wound up in this type of crime."
He added that he "feared for the family in Wadesboro," saying the "cartel, they're going to pay someone back."
Johnson said many people in the trailer park where the shootout took place have surveillance cameras and "saw some things." He said the cameras helped investigators piece together what happened.
Johnson said details were not released sooner because "it's very challenging to do an investigation of this depth."
Deputies also found about two pounds of cocaine in the trailer along with $7,000.
"I am still worried about some retaliation because the Mexican cartels, they don't forget," Johnson said. "They are going to pay someone back, and that concerns me a great deal as sheriff of this county."
Johnson said he was concerned about the growing drug trade in central North Carolina and blamed the "open Southern borders" for escalating drug trafficking.
"The I-85/I-40 corridor has caused Alamance County to be a great place for them to deposit their drug stashes," Johnson said.
The sheriff said that since Feb 19, $2.292 million in drug money has been taken off the streets in Alamance County alone and 129,324 kilos of cocaine have been seized.
"We've never seen so much cocaine in this county," Johnson said.
Alamance County District Attorney Sean Boone said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges are expected.