Family searches for missing father; minivan found burned days later

Family searches for missing father; minivan found burned days later

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A Mid-South family insists hope is not lost in the hunt for a missing father, who disappeared last summer after dropping off food at his children's summer camp.

WMC Action News 5 retraced the missing man's steps, as investigators plead for help solving the disappearance.

"There is just one missing puzzle," mother Betty Barnett said. "The main ingredient, Howard Barnett Jr."

For seven months, Betty and her family have searched for her eldest son.

"I say 'son, I'm not giving up hope because I know you're coming home,'" Betty said.

They insist hope is not lost, despite few clues in the 39-year-old's disappearance.

"I go to work every day, 'how you making it? Still haven't heard from your son?' I say 'No, but by the grace of God he is keeping me strong,'" Betty said.

Howard was a self-proclaimed family man who worked as a tax professional.

His mother said the father of two little girls and Oakhaven High School graduate would stop by her house every day to check up on her.

But on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, he didn't show up.

Howard's family said he took lunch to his girls at summer camp that day, then planned to visit a cousin in Germantown, but never made it.

The next morning, the family tracked Barnett's phone to an area of Downtown Memphis off of Jefferson Avenue.

"It still rings, it still goes to the voicemail," aunt Gwendolyn Dotson said.

The signal died shortly thereafter.

Memphis police issued a City Watch for Howard and his 2005 Honda Odyssey six days after he disappeared.

The Barnett's hung flyers and sat for TV interviews pleading for information. Within days, investigators received a lead on Howard Barnett's minivan.

More than 60 miles from where he was last seen, Howard's minivan was found where Fayette and Shelby counties meet.

A nearby property owner discovered the van badly burned, but for his family, the charred van only raised more questions.

"It was burned up," Betty said. "There were no bones, no human remains found in the van whatsoever."

"When we have something substantial like that such as a vehicle being burned out we do involve homicide just to have extra eyes looking at the case," MPD Lieutenant Cindy Capps said.

Lt. Capps said though homicide investigators stepped in, it's still considered a missing persons case. She said leads turned into interviews, but nothing has led them to Howard.

"They still working on it," Betty said. "They have things but everything, nothing is coming to the surface."

In Howard's case, Lt. Capps said tips from the community are vital, as MPD handles more than 3,000 missing persons cases each year.

"Just try to keep your eyes and ears open and please, please call," Lt. Capps said.

"Somebody please step forward with information," Betty said.

If you have any information that could help find Howard, you are asked to call the Memphis Police Department at (901) 636-4479.

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