damon_saunders_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

The grief is probably unimaginable, yet 16-year-old Ryan Barnett bravely faced the most difficult moment he’s undoubtedly experienced in his short life.

Dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and a black and white polka dot tie, with a ribbon affixed to his lapel signifying domestic violence awareness, the shy young man, held by two women, slowly made his way down the aisle at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens on Saturday.

They were perhaps his longest steps, taking him to five white caskets, side by side, bearing the remains of most of his family.

Then grief overcame him and he was escorted to a seat a few rows from the front.

In the coffins lay the body of his mother, Natasha Whyte-Dell, 36, and his siblings, Bryan Barnett, 14; Diane Barnett, 13; Javon Nelson, 11; and Daniel Barnett, 10.

Whyte-Dell’s estranged hus-band, Patrick Alexander Dell, shot and killed her and four of his five stepchildren in the early hours of Sept. 27 in their Riviera Beach home.

Ryan survived a gunshot wound to the neck.

Dell did not harm two other children, aged 1 and 3, his biological children with Whyte-Dell.

Ryan, the eldest of Whyte-Dell’s children and a William T. Dwyer High School honors student, showed no outward signs of trauma as he sat stoic at the funeral. He sat for two hours with his head buried in his hands during the service.

Preachers and speakers at times spoke directly to him, telling him that God spared him for a reason and that there was a significant plan for his life, Ryan, who turned 16 while hospitalized with the gunshot wound, seldom looked up to acknowledge them.

One by one, preachers offered comfort to the family, including Whyte-Dell’s brother, Pastor Conrod Hartley. They invoked the name of Job, from the bible, noting Job who also lost many family members, yet survived.

An aunt, Alicia Whyte, told poignant stories of each of the children, and how they loved spending the night at her house. Diane, she said, learned to be tough being around so many boys but was also nurturing.  Bryan dreamed of playing pro basketball.
Javon knew every song on the radio.

She told of how Whyte-Dell, whom the family called “Nadine,” asked her to name one of her children after he was born in 2000.
She gave him the name Daniel, from the bible, hoping he wouldn’t grow up to dislike it. As far as she knew, he embraced his name but she did recall his insatiable appetite and his affinity for the International House of Pancakes. 

Teachers also spoke fondly of the siblings and their quiet demeanor in the classroom. The program booklet gave an obituary of each child, chronicling their short lives and listing their individual achievements, their personality traits and their dreams and aspirations.

With the funeral service behind them, the focus now is on the survivors and how they will cope with the tragedy of losing five members at one time.

Lydia Smith, family member and spokeswoman for the family, said there would be much concern for Ryan in the coming weeks, months and even years.

“When Ryan was six months old, there was so much happiness in his eyes,” Smith recalled. “When I looked in his eyes the day of the funeral, there was so much pain.”

The Rev, Tom Mullins, senior pastor of the mega church where the funeral was held, spoke of divine guidance.

“Ryan, I want you to know you have angels that have been assigned to you – to care for you, to comfort you, to protect you and to guide you,” he said.

Shortly after being hospitalized, Ryan asked for Robbie Dew, of Palm Beach Gardens, who mentored the youth for 16 months through the Take Stock in Children program.

“Even though we met every week, and I took him out [to various places], with a 15-year old you never know if you’re connecting,” said Dew, the owner of  Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter. “It was very humbling that he asked for me right away.”

Dew believes there’s a greater purpose for his role in Ryan’s life. “I think God has a purpose for everybody, and I think this is one of the things he wanted me to do… to mentor this child back into society and back into health. I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen and see that he’s given every opportunity to succeed right now. I want him to know I’m not going away,” said Dew, who is planning a golf tournament for November to raise funds for Ryan.

Following the funeral, at a graveside service, Ryan released a host of butterflies in honor of his mother and siblings. Not all of the butterflies would cooperate, some landing on his suit. He nearly managed a smile.

The More You Know

A clothing drive is underway for Ryan and his two siblings. You can donate teenage boys clothing, size Large, pant size 30-32 Waist, 32 Length and shoe size 10 to any fire station in Riviera Beach. Also needed are clothing for a 3-year old girl and a 1 year old boy.  To contribute to a trust fund for the children, call 786-777-0184.

Pictured:  Damon Saunders