justice for tanner barton tanner's voice

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On April 21, 2012, 19-year-old Tanner Barton was invited to a party at a good friend’s house in Kokomo, Indiana. But, on the morning of April 22, Michele Barton received a phone call that changed the course of her life forever — Tanner was dead.

The call came from Tanner’s best friend, Tommy, who stated that there had been an accident at the house where Tanner had been staying. Tommy’s call, which had been made several hours after Tanner’s body was found, gave Michele an unwavering sense that something was amiss. In particular, although Tommy hadn’t been present at the party the night before, Tommy’s veterinarian father had been called to the scene before 911 or Michele were notified of what had happened. Therein lay a looming question: why had so much time passed before Michele was called and why did the family send for a veterinarian?

What happened on April 21-22?

*Names have been changed

*Max’s Statement

According to the official Howard County Sheriff’s Department supplementary report, Deputy Keith Myers arrived at the Lindskoog home on April 22, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. and was greeted by Tanner’s good friend, Max. Max was “visibly upset and crying” and indicated that Tanner was downstairs in the basement. Deputy Myers found Tanner at the bottom of the stairs, lying partially on his right side. After Medic 1 from St. Joseph Hospital arrived, Tanner was pronounced dead at the scene.

The police separated the family for questioning based on the hunch that they might attempt to collaborate on a story to explain the tragic circumstances. Deputy Myers spoke with Max and learned that he had said goodnight to Tanner before retiring to his bedroom at around 12:30 a.m., leaving Tanner alone with Max’s sister, Morgan.

*Morgan’s Statement

Morgan, who was 15-years-old at the time, told Deputy Myers that she and Tanner went to Dan’s Donuts around 12:40 a.m. and returned around 1:30 a.m. In her statement, Morgan said that Tanner drank a glass of beer before he went upstairs and returned with a bottle of alcohol and a container of pineapple juice. Morgan stated that both of them drank a mixture of the two beverages that night.

Additionally, Morgan noted that Tanner attempted to call his girlfriend around 2 a.m., but that he couldn’t get ahold of her. (In later statements, Michele said that Tanner’s girlfriend told her that she had spoken to him around 2:07-2:11 a.m. During that call, Tanner’s girlfriend said that it sounded as if there was a party going on — a departure from Morgan’s assertion that she and Tanner were alone that night.)

Around 3:00-3:30 a.m., Morgan recalled that Tanner got up to go upstairs, but made “some type of noise” when he approached the steps and fell to the floor. Morgan went over to check his pulse and believed that Tanner had one. Ultimately deciding he might be joking around, she returned to the couch and fell asleep. When Morgan awoke in the morning, Tanner was in the same position that she had left him.

Carol Lindskoog’s Statement

Carol Lindskoog told Deputy Myers that she had been home during the evening of April 21 and that Morgan wished her goodnight around 2 a.m. after she and Tanner returned from the donut shop. Carol stated that she was not home when Tanner was found and had only arrived when the police were on scene investigating the case.

Jeff Lindskoog’s Statement

Carol’s husband, Jeff, said that there appeared to be no signs that Tanner had been drinking when he interacted with him earlier in the night and that he too had been awake around 2 a.m. when Morgan said goodnight. Around 8:30 a.m., Jeff said that his dog ran downstairs into the basement, which was off limits. When he went to retrieve his dog, Jeff found Tanner lying on the floor at the base of the stairs.

Instead of checking on him, Jeff told Deputy Myers that he took photographs of Tanner on his cell phone so that he could play a joke on him after he woke up. Jeff went back upstairs, but returned when he heard Morgan’s screams. Upon his return, Jeff checked Tanner’s pulse. When he couldn’t find one, he told Max to call 911. Jeff noted that his daughter, *Karen, had been asleep in her basement bedroom during the evening and morning hours of April 21-22.

Dr. Todd Cooney’s Statement

Tommy’s father, Todd Cooney, arrived at the home and told Deputy Myers that he was a friend of the Lindskoogs’ and came to show support. Dr. Cooney said that Carol had only called him to let him know that something had happened to his son’s best friend, and maintained that he had no information on what had occurred inside the house.

In a 2020 interview on “The One and Oney” podcast with Dustin Oney, Michele revealed that Dr. Cooney and Carol had been having an affair in 2012 and that Tanner had found out about it just a few weeks prior to his death. Moreover, Dr. Cooney had a troubled past that colored much of his veterinary career — he had been addicted to ketamine and had been forced to surrender his DEA registration in 2005. Dr. Cooney was working in a veterinary clinic with Carol (whose husband, Jeff, was on the board) in 2012, after his DEA license was reinstated the previous year.

Coroner Jay Price’s Report

In his official summary report, Dr. Price noted that Tanner had blood smeared on the right side of his face as well as on his right hand but otherwise appeared to have no external injuries. While detectives were processing the scene, Dr. Price took inventory of the basement and stated that it looked like someone had a party.

tanner barton party couch
Police photograph of Lindskoog couch on April 22, 2012

He “observed an empty liquor bottle on the sofa partially behind a cushion” as well as “3 glasses, a plate, white under shirt, wallet, plastic cup, keys, package with clothing in it and another wallet” on the end table next to the sofa. At the morgue, Dr. Price collected blood specimens for drug and alcohol screening. He explicitly stated that he was unable to obtain a urine sample.

The toxicology report showed that Tanner was only positive for THC and that no other drugs were in his system. His blood alcohol level was 0.063%, which is well below the legal limit. Based on both the coroner’s review of the body and the autopsy, Tanner’s death was ruled as “positional asphyxia” (meaning his body position prevented him from breathing adequately and thereby led to suffocation) and the manner of death was deemed “natural.”

Coroner Steven Seele’s Report

In 2017, Dr. Seele became Howard County Coroner and began to review the case for himself. In a press release by the Howard County Sheriff’s Department, Dr. Seele recognized an initial 2012 finding that Tanner had an enlarged heart. In the original autopsy report, Tanner’s heart was noted to be of a heavy weight, but there appeared to be no evidence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Those with HCM, an often undiagnosed disease, have a thickened heart muscle that can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. Unfortunately, in a small number of cases, individuals with HCM can experience hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy which can cause an issue with the heart’s electrical system and consequently result in sudden death.

Tanner barton football offensive lineman
Tanner posing for Northwestern High School football

Tanner was an athletic, healthy teenager that was as strong as he was tall (6’2 and about 280 pounds). He was the offensive lineman for his college football team, a position on the field that is commonly played by individuals with thick, strong necks and large waists. According to Michele Barton, despite the myriad sports physicals that Tanner had during his athletic career, there had never been an indication of her son having an enlarged heart or any other pre-existing heart condition.

Moreover, Dr. Seele noted that a urine test revealed that Tanner was negative for all drugs. The test was allegedly performed by Howard Regional Health System Lab rather than American Institute of Toxicology (AIT), which was the main lab that processed Tanner’s blood samples in 2012. In the samples processed by AIT, Tanner was negative for all drugs but THC. However, in the urine sample, marijuana did not show up.

The Mysterious Urine Sample

Again, Dr. Price directly stated in his report that he was unable to collect a urine sample from Tanner — so, where did this mysterious urine test come from? Michele suspects that the sample was planted in the toxicology report after the initial drug tests were conducted, perhaps to cover up a previous discovery by the police related to the case.

But, what could the police possibly be trying to cover up? Michele believes that the illicit drug, ketamine, may have played a part in her son’s death. Hence, it is possible that Dr. Cooney was summoned to the house to help cover any tracks that connected his controlled substance abuse habit to Tanner’s accident.

The Ketamine Hypothesis

Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that is traditionally used as either a sedative (for humans), a tranquilizer (for animals) or as a pain reliever. However, ketamine is also used recreationally in high doses to achieve a dissociative or hallucinatory effect similar to LSD.

The drug can be administered intravenously, snorted, or taken orally and can be mixed in with other drugs such as marijuana. Side-effects of a high dose (which is often referred to as entering a “K-hole”) include: reduced breathing, muscle spasms/weakness, dizziness, difficulty with balance, impaired vision, slurred speech, nausea or vomiting, and severe confusion.

If combined with alcohol, ketamine can also cause a paralytic effect that leads to body numbness and problems with physical movement. Tanner collapsed on the floor of his friend’s basement after uttering a strange noise, and was unable to breathe properly or adjust his body position. When he was found in the morning, blood and what appeared to be a vomit-like substance had flowed out of his nose.

Could a controlled substance such as ketamine (especially if mixed with alcohol) caused this reaction? Furthermore, if Tanner only tested positive for THC, might the marijuana he had smoked earlier that evening been laced with ketamine?

The Case Closes 

Despite the mounting evidence toward suspicious circumstances, Tanner’s case was closed in 2018. Earlier that year, Investigators uncovered text messages that allegedly revealed Tanner’s recreational use of Adderall to finish a school project in the days prior to April 21.

The texts spurred the assumption that Tanner’s lack of sleep and subsequent physical exhaustion contributed to his death. When combined with his already enlarged heart, Tanner’s use of Adderall supposedly caused a sudden cardiac event that led him to fall into a distorted position and suffocate.

Michele is not satisfied with Dr. Seele’s conclusion and still suspects that foul play was involved in her son’s passing.

michele barton tanner's voice
Michele Barton visiting Tanner’s grave while wearing her signature “Justice for Tanner” shirt

Justice for Tanner Continues

Although she doesn’t believe that Tanner was murdered, the gross negligence that occurred on behalf of the Lindskoog family was enough to motivate Michele to vehemently seek justice for Tanner. I had the opportunity to sit with Michele (over Zoom) to discuss her next steps for bringing anyone responsible for Tanner’s death to justice.

At the time that we spoke, Michele and her family were in the midst of recovering from Covid-19 — a testament to the trials and tribulations of 2020. However, for Michele, this illness was a blessing in disguise. Although she was quite sick, Michele’s two weeks of necessitated recovery enabled her to dedicate all of her time and energy into raising awareness for her organization, Tanner’s Voice. At present, her goal is to put pressure on investigators until they agree to re-open her son’s case.

The Gift of Social Media

In the eight years since Tanner’s death, Michele’s awareness efforts have expertly captured the social media zeitgeist of each year. She began on Facebook in 2016, posting photos and videos about Tanner and updates in the case. The page is now followed by 1,818 people and counting, and Michele often “goes live” to chat with her followers about the case and to answer any questions people might have.

Next, Michele joined Twitter in 2019. Michele regularly updates her 1,969 followers on her awareness efforts, including the various interviews she has given and the numerous podcasts that she has appeared on. Now, in 2020, Michele is using the viral nature of TikTok videos to post photos of her son as well as informational videos covering the basics of the case. She currently has 3,859 followers, but this number continues to climb each day.

“Tanner would have loved TikTok, his humor was perfect for it,” Michele told me, smiling brightly at the thought of her son using the popular video app. “He had done ‘Teach Me How to Dougie’ with his friend when it was originally popular [in 2010/2011] and he would’ve done the dances that are on [TikTok] now.”

When I asked Michele about her expansion across social media platforms in the last year, she told me that 2020 has been “the year of building her support base back up since the case closed in 2018.” And, as this year comes to a close, “2021 is the year of reopening the investigation and finally achieving justice.”

michele barton tanner's voice
Michele Barton with a young Tanner

Searching for the Truth

“We’re in the process of creating a Change.org but it has got to be perfect,” Michele said when I asked her what her 2021 efforts would look like. “The investigators tried to shut me up with their ‘Hail Mary’ attempt in 2018. They looked at his heart in 2012 and saw nothing, and then six years later they used a text message to close the case!”

In 2018, Michele appeared on the Dr. Oz show to discuss the case. Unfortunately, Dr. Oz ended up pushing the text message theory and Michele received backlash for her continual fight for justice — hence her increased efforts to raise awareness in the last two years.

“I’m not working with big news or media outlets anymore,” Michele said. “The Dr. Oz Show and Nancy Grace showed me that the media can help you then severely hinder you.” Now, she is sticking to speaking with independent websites and podcasts who are more interested in finding out the truth than protecting their reputation or image.

Re-Opening the Case

Currently, Michele’s strategy for re-opening the case is to focus in on the mysterious urine sample that showed up some five years after the initial toxicology screening. “If I can get enough awareness and traction on my organization,” Michele told me, “then I can get to a grand jury and initiate another police investigation based on that planted evidence.”

I asked Michele what justice would look like for her, provided that the case is successfully re-opened next year. “Of course, if the family and/or the vet is found ‘guilty’ of being responsible for Tanner’s death, then I’d feel relief. But if they’re not found ‘guilty,’ then I won’t stop pushing.”

A self-proclaimed “Momma on a mission,” Michele stated that she’s already had her worst day. “Sure, burying your child is awful, but being told that they’re gone — that they’re dead — is the worst,” she said. “You can’t knock me down again. I’ll keep rising back up. You can hit me but you can’t knock me down.”

As each day brings Michele closer to achieving her goal of justice, you can keep up with her efforts and show your support by following Tanner’s Voice on Twitter (@Justice4Tanner), TikTok (justice4tanner), and on Facebook.

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