At 4 years old, Wyatt Barker may not have his career path figured out, but the Hallsburg boy has already been sworn in as McLennan County’s youngest junior deputy.

Sheriff Parnell McNamara pinned a junior deputy badge on Wyatt at the sheriff’s office Monday morning, hailing him as the youngest deputy to be involved in a running gun battle.

Wyatt was riding as sidekick as his father, William Rex Barker, helped deputies track down five suspects in a car theft and chase that started at Tradinghouse Park 2 on June 4.

McNamara said the Barkers were instrumental in helping law enforcement in the six-hour manhunt that ended with five Bell County residents in custody on multiple felony charges.

McNamara said the Barkers took off after a vehicle was stolen from a family that was swimming at Tradinghouse Lake and at one point faced gunfire, though no bullets struck their truck.

“His father was pursuing the criminals, the carjackers, and he just happened to have his 4-year-old son with him,” McNamara said. “He did play it safe, put the young man down on the floor of the car and backed off to a safe distance, but he kept eyes on the cars and gave dispatch their location moment by moment.”

Rex Barker said he and his son were taking a leisurely drive at the lake that Tuesday afternoon while on a shopping errand. They were driving around the park when a man approached them.

“A gentleman came up to the truck waving his hands telling us his car had just been stolen and we must have just passed it,” Barker said. “We turned back around and he asked if we found it, if we could call 911.”

Rex Barker took off in pursuit, trailing a red SUV and the victim’s gray sedan.

“At first, I thought the gray car was trying to stop the red car, so I was just going to help out where I could,” Barker said. “Then the red car started shooting at us.”

Telling his son to get on the floor of the truck, Barker slowed down, but continued to follow both cars while on the phone with authorities. The gray car crashed near Cottonwood Creek Road and County Line Parkway, and two teenage girls tried to walk away, but Barker ordered them to stay as he talked on the phone to law enforcement, which soon arrived to arrest them.

Meanwhile, the other suspects drove the red SUV into a field, then abandoned it and fled on foot.

A lengthy manhunt ensued as deputies and multiple other agencies searched the countryside for the three other suspects on foot and by helicopter. Officers made five arrests, including three girls ages 13, 14 and 15; Kwane Davis Lucas, 17; and Kyhrek Holder, 25.

“Had it not been for Mr. Barker, we may not have known the whole story,” Detective Michael Hutchinson said. “We would have had the ending and we could have worked it backwards, but with his story and with what he did, it was great.”

Detective Eric Carrizales agreed. He said because of Barker’s timeline and contact with dispatchers, the apprehensions were successful and no one got hurt.

“What he did, he also helped us catch the people too,” Carrizales said. “He was able to keep his eyes on him to let us know where the ending points were and where we needed to start.”

Barker’s wife, Felicia Barker, was shaken when she heard what had happened.

“I was so upset, but I knew he would keep our son safe,” she said. “I am now so proud of him.”

Rex and his son were recognized as playing paramount roles in the chase and arrest of the five suspects. McNamara said the story could not have ended any better and he was proud to have the Barkers as honorary members of the department.

“Because of them, this story has a very happy ending and now we have the youngest member in our posse,” the sheriff said.

Wyatt is named after the legendary Sheriff Wyatt Earp of Arizona, but whether he plans to follow his namesake into law enforcement remains to be seen.

“I want to be a firefighter,” Wyatt said.

“He goes back between wanting to be a deputy or firefighter,” Rex Barker said. “But really, he can be anything he wants to be.”

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Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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