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Boeing whistleblower found dead in ‘midst of’ retaliation case; attorney says he’s shocked

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(NEW YORK) — A former Boeing employee who raised numerous concerns about the company’s production standards died from a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound Saturday, per a coroner’s report. The former employee was actively engaged in a whistleblower complaint against the company prior to his death, the employee’s attorney confirmed.


John Barnett, 62, was found by police officers on the morning of March 9 in a vehicle parked at a Holiday Inn along Savannah Highway “holding a silver hand gun in his right hand,” according to the Charleston Police Department.

Police said they were responding to a hotel worker’s call after the worker heard a “pop” from Barnett’s vehicle about 30 minutes prior to officers arriving, per the police report. Barnett had checked into the hotel on March 2 and was due to check out on March 8.

Responding officers discovered a male inside a vehicle “suffering from a gunshot wound to the head,” the incident report reads. “He was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

The Charleston Police Department said the investigation is still active.

Barnett worked for Boeing for 32 years until his retirement in 2017. He had been actively involved in litigation against the company — he was deposed before Boeing lawyers last week, according to his lawyer.

Barnett, 62, filed his whistleblower complaint shortly after his retirement from Boeing in 2017. He came forward publicly in 2019 when he and other former Boeing employees partook in interviews with The New York Times. Barnett and others accused Boeing of prioritizing profits over safety.

“John was in the midst of a deposition in his whistleblower retaliation case, which finally was nearing the end,” Barnett’s attorneys, Robert Turkewitz and Brian Knowles, said in a statement Tuesday. “He was in very good spirits and really looking forward to putting this phase of his life behind him and moving on. We didn’t see any indication he would take his own life. No one can believe it.”

Boeing has moved to dismiss the case on several occasions and has denied all of Barnett’s allegations — including claims the company put profits over safety. 

“Safety issues are immediately investigated, and changes are made wherever necessary,” said a Boeing spokesperson at the time of his lawsuit.

Upon learning of Barnett’s passing, Boeing released a statement: “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

The news follows the completion of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) audit of Boeing’s production lines after a Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane lost its door plug mid-flight earlier this year.

The New York Times reported Monday that Boeing failed 33 of 89 audits. Spirit Aerosystems — a supplier for Boeing that manufactures the fuselage for the 737 — failed seven of 13 audits from the FAA.

In response to the results, Boeing said it will “continue to implement immediate changes and develop a comprehensive action plan to strengthen safety and quality, and build the confidence of our customers and their passengers.”

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.

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