"I'd never imagined him getting injured on the job -- maybe in Afghanistan, but not over here," Barnett's sister, Belinda Barnett-Andrea of St. Albans, Queens, said Wednesday as she waited while her brother underwent surgery at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
Barnett, 45, of Central Islip, was stabbed in the left eye by Edgar Owens, 46, of the Bronx, Wednesday morning at the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road Station, authorities said. MTA officials said Owens attacked Barnett without warning, and Barnett managed to fire his weapon four times, striking Owens three times, killing him.
MTA chairman Joseph Lhota lauded Barnett for his actions, saying he was in "awe of his bravery."
Barnett's sister agreed.
"Not only did he save himself, he saved a lot of innocent people," she said. "I think my brother saved a lot of lives."
Barnett-Andrea said her brother comes from a long line of family members -- at least 20 -- who have served in the military. Barnett, she said, is a graduate of SUNY Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in the Bronx. He worked as a merchant marine, and, as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, authorities said. He also spent a year with the NYPD in 1999.
Barnett has a 12-year-old son and is engaged to be married, she said. In addition to his sister, he has three brothers.
He is also an avid marathoner who routinely runs for charitable causes. He has raised funds to fight heart disease, which led to his father's death, as well as cancer, lupus and autism.
"I would picture my brother being at a marathon for charity" on the July Fourth holiday, Barnett-Andrea said. Instead he was in hospital.
As family members rushed to be by Barnett's side, his sister said they never had time to put out the American flag, a family tradition on July Fourth.
Barnett-Andrea said she was proud of her brother's actions in the face of a grave threat. "In a split reaction, you have to do what you have to do," she said. "It goes with the job."