Two shot and killed at Concord Sun Drop plant

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2008

Updated 6:50 p.m.

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Two people were shot and killed Friday morning during an apparent robbery at a soda bottling plant in Concord, authorities said.

Concord deputy police chief Guy Smith said authorities were using a helicopter and police dogs to hunt for the shooter, who was seen running away from the Sun-drop Bottling Co. carrying a box. He remained at large late Friday afternoon.

“We have 25 to 30 investigators who are following every lead,” Smith said. “When someone is carrying a box from the scene, you want to talk to them.”

Smith said the shooter walked into the plant’s office around 10 a.m. during what they believe was a robbery. He identified the victims as Donna Barnhardt, 59, and Darrell Noles, 44.

Two employees working at the facility who did not hear the gunfire later found the bodies and called 911, he said.

Smith said Barnhardt had worked at the company for 18 years.

“She liked her job. She was just one of these people who was happy-go-lucky,” said Charles Messina, whose brother-in-law is married to Barnhardt’s daughter. “She was just bubbly all the time … It’s just amazing that something so senseless could happen.”

Family members said Noles was not an employee at the plant, but was visiting the office to apply for a part-time job.

Smith said police don’t know the shooter’s identity or if there was a relationship between the shooter and the victims.

The Rev. Donnie Tomlin of the Wil-Mar Park Baptist Church in Concord said his family is trying to come to terms with Noles’ death. Noles was his wife’s uncle.

“He was a great guy. Just a good family man. This is so tough for everyone,” he said.

Sun-drop Bottling manufactures soft drinks and spring water at the plant about 25 miles north of Charlotte. The company, founded in 1954, has about 30 employees and produces 1,800 to 5,000 cases of soda a day.

Telephone messages left for company president John King at his home were not returned Friday.

Outside the one-story brick bottling plant, workers talked quietly in groups. A few had tears as they hugged their fellow employees. They were reluctant to talk to the media.

Barnhardt, the mother of three, spent most of her spare time doting on her five grandchildren, family members said.

“She loved them,” Messina said. “She was supposed to take two of her granddaughters to a dance recital rehearsal after work. What are we going to tell them?”

Family members recalled how much Barnhardt loved the holidays, especially Easter. Every year she would invite family members and friends for an easter egg hunt in her backyard. She gave away hundreds of dollars in presents at the hunt, including hammocks, barbecue grills and $100 gift certificates.

“She loved to watch the adults scramble for eggs with the kids,” Messina said.