Since his teenage years, T.J. Barnet has been a big Superman fan, and it's well-known among his math students at Truman High School in Independence that some have given Barnet drawings of the fictional hero that he's posted in his classroom.
Barnet can't employ any superpowers, but for a few minutes Sunday afternoon, Barnet played a bit of a hero role. He helped foil an attempted armed robbery at the McKeever's Price Chopper store off Noland Road just south of Interstate 70, restraining one of the suspects until police arrived.
The story swiftly made its way to social media – so quickly that his wife learned from a friend before Barnet returned home and he had to explain the story instead of breaking the news gently. Monday at school, it was a hot topic.
“I've told the story about 30 times,” Barnet said with a bit of a laugh. “The students were trying to ask without saying it. 'Did anything cool happen this weekend? Did you go grocery shopping?'”
Barnet, who has spent his entire 13-year teaching career at Truman, says he normally does the grocery shopping while his wife stays home with their toddler son, and he just started picking up items about 5:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard a noise from the entrance and saw two loss-prevention officers trying to restrain a man. He made his way toward them in case he could help, then noticed a female employee uncomfortably holding a gun he presumed belonged to the man being restrained.
Then, he heard the woman say “Excuse me?” and saw she was trying to turn away from another man, an accomplice, reaching for the gun.
“At that moment, I thought, 'I don't think I want him to have this gun,'” Barnet said.
Barnet grabbed the man at the chest and drove him back toward the doors. They ended up on the ground, with Barnet sitting on his stomach and grabbing his collar.
“I just told him, 'We're not going to get up until the cops get here,'” Barnet said. “He tried to convince me to let him sit up, and 'I said no, I don't know you, but I don't trust you.'”
After police arrived, handcuffed the suspects and took witness statements, Barnet simply continued his shopping trek, though it took a bit longer with all the people thanking him. The female employee who nervously held the gun offered to pay for his groceries, but he turned down the offer.
It was gratifying, Barnet said, to receive a thank-you message from a woman whose grandson works at the grocery store. His wife, he added, couldn't help but think of the potential danger when Barnet has one child and another on the way. While he understands that concern, in that split-second he decided he needed to help.
“She was happy but not happy,” he said, “but at the same time, what if I didn't do something?”
Instead, perhaps a little Superman instinct kicked in.
“Maybe the situation finds someone like that,” he said. “I didn't stand by and watch or take a video like you see a lot.”