When tragedy struck her family 28 years ago, Sampson resident Deanna Barney never imagined that an opportunity would come calling so many years later as a result.
The tragedy took place back in February 1985 when Barney, formerly of West Virgina, and her family learned that her beloved cousin Wilma had been murdered.
“We’re a close-knit family. As the two oldest granddaughters, Wilma and I were extremely close,” shared Barney, recalling how the two of them spent summers together as children, and how later in life, as adults, they were roommates for several years.
“She was a teacher. She had a Master’s degree in music and she loved teaching and working with the kids,” remembered Barney, adding that her cousin didn’t marry for a long time but always wanted to.
While the two were rooming together in Virginia Beach, Barney shared that Wilma met a man and eventually got married in her mid-30s. Sadly, the marriage that her cousin had wanted for so long was cut short when, less than a year into the marriage, Wilma was found murdered in her home.
“Her husband wasn’t home at the time and I had just moved to Jacksonville (N.C.) two weeks earlier,” said Barney. “I’ve always felt that, since her husband was out of town, I may have been with her if I was still living there.”
Now, alive and “really blessed” some 28 years later, Barney has been presented with an opportunity to tell her cousin’s story by appearing on the TV show “Happily Never After,” channel 240 Investigative Discoveries.
Barney described the show as one that tells the stories of “people who have not been married long when tragedy strikes.”
The story of Barney’s cousin captured the interest of the show almost by accident when one of the show’s employees, Dominique, recognized her cousin’s name while doing research.
“She thought it was the name of a professor’s wife,” explained Barney, adding that even though her cousin wasn’t the person Dominique initially thought she was, Dominique remained interested in what happened to Wilma.
When the show contacted her aunt (Wilma’s mother), Barney was suspicious at first.
However, “talking with Dominique and later Victoria (another of the show’s employees) convinced me,” said Barney who agreed to participate in an episode of the show centered around her cousin. “They were very nice and seemed sincere and truly interested. They seemed like real people, not just out for a big blast story. They wanted to know details, but they didn’t act like they wanted to intrude and stomp over everything. They were truly interested in her (Wilma’s) life and who she really was. The more I talked to them the more comfortable I was.”
Barney’s aunt and another cousin also agreed to participate in the show, and filming began in April.
“I had no idea what to expect. They put you in front of this camera with all these bright lights and you have to sit a certain way. You even have to be careful about how you swallow because the mic picks up everything,” shared Barney, adding that she also had to respond to many questions during the interview which took over four hours.
When asked how it was to have to relive her cousin’s death in the interview, Barney noted that “a couple of times I couldn’t say anything it all. It became very emotional. There were certain things that would trigger and then the tears and all would come. It was hard to go on at times.”
It was also difficult when the show wanted to film at the cemetery where Barney’s cousin is laid to rest.
“They wanted to get a picture of us walking down the path to the gravesite with the flowers and laying the flowers on the grave,” Barney said. “It was things that would have all been true at the time (right after her death).”
“You know, you’re used to going to a cemetary and staying there until you feel ready to leave and then you know you need to leave, but we had to stay there to get the shots,” continued Barney, adding that she was particularly concerned about how her 87-year-old aunt was feeling.
Although challenging, Barney is glad that she and her family took the opportunity to share her cousin’s story through the TV show as it helped bring about a little more healing.
“I’ve had closure about it for a long time but my aunt has struggled with it, so I think it helped her with closure,” said Barney. “I think it did her good knowing that it (the show) was about Wilma’s life…She feels that she (Wilma) wasn’t lost, that even after all these years somebody is remembering her and what she contributed to life.”
“If it helped her and remembers Wilma then it’s good,” she added.
Now as the family waits to see the episode, which is set to air on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 9 p.m., Barney shared that she hopes the episode “will be in good taste” and show the change that has taken place in her own life, the same one that took place in Wilma’s life before her death.
“Both Wilma and I were raised to be in church and to serve the Lord,” said Barney, noting that both of them had strayed from the Christian lifestyle in their younger days. “I hope the show makes it plain that that’s not who I am now. Now I’m a born-again Christian.”
It’s also not who her cousin was either, stressed Barney. “She came back to the Lord too…I know where she is.”
Barney also hopes that the show will help others who have also gone through similar tragedies.”It’s just part of our life, but you can relate to people who have been through the same thing and pray for them…I just say ‘Lord, I pray that it will help somebody.’”
Until then, Barney waits, anxious to see the episode having not been able to see anything before its air date. “We will definitely be sitting in front of our TV that night.”
Tune into the episode to learn the whole story about Barney’s cousin, her life, the man responsible for taking it, what happened to him, and how Barney and her family responded.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137. ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.