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‘Everybody loved him’ UHS raises money in memory of fallen classmate

A little bit after 3 p.m. Monday at University High School, and the students were gone – out of there – for the day.

The Bluebird buses had all cleared the lot.

All the cars were right behind.

Yep: Another day in the books at the sprawling campus on Bakers Ridge.

School buildings, though, never really empty.

Any administrator, teacher or custodian walking the halls, after hours, can tell you that.

Whispered, unspoken or otherwise, there’s always a presence of … students.

Some more pronounced than others.

Which is why teachers Ryanne White and Sande Morgan (sounds like Sandy) both had mirrored reactions when asked separately about one student of theirs in particular.

A student with an imprint on their day-to-day that couldn’t have been louder – even if he didn’t vocalize one bit of it.

“Oh, boy,” both said, with smiles and soft eyes that looked off in the same direction.


They were taking about Luke Barnett, a senior whom they both taught in their autism classrooms at UHS.

Luke, who was on the spectrum, died unexpectedly in February.

Just like whispers of students no longer in the hallway, they started thinking about that Hollywood smile of his and that laugh that could make you laugh, too – even if you thought you’d been having a bad day up to that point.

There was his fun-to-watch devotion to Hostess cupcakes, his eagerness to please his teachers and the competitive drive of an athlete stealthily lurking under that good-humored exterior.

Luke won a wall’s worth of medals in bowling as a Special Olympian.

He swam laps at the Aquatic Center at Mylan Park and rode horses at On Eagles’ Wings, a facility near Fairmont that offers equine therapy for autism patients, soldiers returning from war zones and anyone else who can clinically benefit from a sanctioned, certified horseback ride.  

Luke’s friends at UHS saddled up quickly after his passing.

They launched a “coin competition” fundraiser, in hopes of having a check to present to the equestrian center before summer vacation.

Monday, that’s exactly what happened.

White and Morgan handed a check for $760 to Patty Harman, a therapeutic riding instructor who counted Luke among her students.

“We can’t thank you enough,” Harmon said. “So generous.”

“I can still see Luke sitting in this bean bag chair we have in our office,” the riding instructor remembered.

“He’d be patiently waiting his turn to ride and he’d be looking up with this giant smile.”

Luke’s parents, Alan and Whitney Barnett also turned out for the day.

“He’d love this,” Whitney said, with a smile of her own.

“Luke was nonverbal,” Alan  said. “He couldn’t tell us how his day went.”

But plenty of people could talk about Luke, a dad remembered fondly.

Especially after the funeral.

“I don’t think I had realized the impression he had made. Everybody loved him. That was special to hear.”