CALL 6: Mom seeks justice in 5-year-old cold case

HOWARD COUNTY, Ind. -- A mother is demanding answers in the cold case death of Tanner Barton, 19, a Marian University student.

“It’s heart wrenching,” said Michele Barton, Tanner’s mother. “He was a fabulous kid. He shouldn’t be here (in a cemetery).”

Tanner died on April 22, 2012 after he collapsed during a get together with friends at a house in the western part of Howard County.

“Tanner would not have collapsed for no reason,” said Michele Barton. “He was perfectly healthy.”

Michele Barton told Call 6 Investigates the friends who were with Tanner know more than what they’re saying.

One friend told detectives she checked Tanner’s pulse after he fell near the bottom of some stairs, but the friend thought Tanner was snoring, so she went to sleep.

“She did not check to see if he was breathing,” according to a report from the Howard County Coroner’s Office.

That morning, the friend found Tanner unresponsive and cold.

He was dead at the age of 19.

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“She knew something was wrong with Tanner,” said Michele Barton. “You wouldn’t check somebody’s pulse if you didn’t think something was wrong.”

Autopsy and toxicology reports show Tanner had been drinking, but wasn’t legally drunk at a .06% BAC.

He also had THC in his system, but both the coroner and pathologist seemed baffled in their reports.

“This is a very complicated case with many unanswered questions,” wrote Jay Price, then Howard County Coroner.

The cause of death was listed as “positional asphyxia,” because Tanner’s body was positioned in a way that cut off his air supply.

“No anatomic findings are detected at the time of autopsy to explain a sudden collapse and the demise,” said pathologist Dr. Bruce Hughes. “Toxicology studies are not helpful in pinpointing an exact cause of death.”

The manner of death is listed as “natural,” however, Michele Barton and others consider the death highly suspicious.

Michele Barton wants more toxicology tests to determine if another substance could have caused her son to collapse and be unable to move himself.

“If we have to exhume Tanner, that's a hard one,” said Michele Barton. “I do believe we need to do it."

Michele Barton also questioned why no one called 911 until 9:24 am.

“We need closure, and we need those responsible to be held accountable,” said Michele Barton.

The case has captured the attention of many, including Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, which is based in Colorado.

“What stands out about Tanner's case is there are many people involved, and there's a lot of inconsistencies throughout the case and the files," said Tara Wrysec, spokesperson with FOHVAMP. “It doesn’t make sense. There’s a big puzzle piece missing to this mystery as to what happened.”

Michele Barton wants the Howard County Sheriff’s Department to fully investigate, so the case doesn’t remain a cold case.

“I’ve brought them stuff for five years now and it just falls on deaf ears,” said Michele Barton. “If they need facts, they need to search for facts.”

Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers declined to be interviewed on camera, but told Call 6 Investigates the case is an open and active investigation.

“If there was anything else we could do with this investigation, we would certainly do it,” said Rogers. “The problem is there’s been a lot of innuendo and suspicious but nothing in the way of factual evidence.”
Rogers is asking anyone with information to contact the Howard County Sheriff’s Department at 765-456-2031.

“We will be glad to talk to anyone who is wanting to be anonymous,” said Rogers.

Tomorrow, June 10, hundreds of people will gather in Kokomo to raise awareness for homicide and missing persons cases.

Sign-ups start at 12 noon at the Milwaukee Iron Clubhouse.

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