An Equestrian Was Shot by Her Olympic Trainer, Then Pummeled Online




  • In US
  • 2019-10-16 19:18:31Z
  • By The New York Times
An Equestrian Was Shot by Her Olympic Trainer, Then Pummeled Online
An Equestrian Was Shot by Her Olympic Trainer, Then Pummeled Online  

LONG VALLEY, N.J. - The gunshots rang out from the back porch of the farmhouse, a little ways off from the stables and Olympic-level dressage arena, the improbable sound rising over the 53-acre estate.

A woman had been shot twice in the chest by a man well known not merely to her but also to just about everyone in the rarefied dressage community: Michael Barisone, an Olympic rider, the owner of the farm and the woman's trainer.

The shooting was the shocking culmination of a landlord-tenant dispute that the woman, Lauren Kanarek, had documented all summer on social media, openly fearful of what might happen. "I'm afraid," she wrote, five days before the attack. "I'm being bullied."

Barisone, who was charged with two counts of attempted murder, said that he shot Kanarek in self-defense.

In the week before the shooting, Barisone had called 911 several times, claiming that she and her fiance were squatters on his farm and were harassing him; in one call, Barisone described the conflict as "a war. And it's going to be dealt with."

Kanarek survived the attack but was placed in a medically induced coma. Finally, after an extensive surgery to repair damage from a bullet to her left lung and more than a week of hospitalization, she had recovered enough to start reconnecting with the world.

The first thing she saw, she recalled, were comments that "wished I was dead."

"They know there is a person suffering multiple gunshot wounds, bullet wounds," she said in an interview, her voice raspy where the ventilator had damaged her vocal cords. "To say those things, is something no one could ever imagine."

Seldom do attempted murder cases elicit sympathy for the suspect; rarer still are cases where the victim is blamed. And yet Kanarek somehow found herself the target of an online lynch mob.

"Yes, you were shot by an obviously provoked man … but you accept zero accountability," reads one direct reply to Kanarek on an online forum hosted by The Chronicle of the Horse, an equestrian publication. "What a narcissist. It's always someone else's fault."

The blind sympathy for Barisone lies partly in his standing in the dressage world; he served as a reserve rider on the U.S. dressage team in the 2008 Olympics and coached Allison Brock, one of the riders for the U.S. squad that won a team bronze in the 2016 Olympics.

Few fans could fathom his involvement, and many who tried to find reason behind the shooting ended up focusing on his claims that Kanarek had serially harassed him.

Just before the shooting, Kanarek had asked the Division of Child Protection and Permanency to investigate Barisone for potential abuse of a child of his fiancee, according to Jeffery Simms, the lawyer who represented him at the arraignment.

"The alleged victim is not a victim," Simms told reporters then. "She's a villain." Kanarek said she did not recall placing the call to child services.

Barisone's supporters also point to Kanarek's inflammatory social media presence. She has at least one pending charge against her for cyberstalking in North Carolina, where she used to live.

"Lauren Kanarek took her bullying too far. Everyone has limits," Susan Wachowich, who runs a popular site covering the sport, wrote on Twitter the day of the shooting. She wrote that the site "100% supports Michael Barisone in his actions."

The post has since been deleted by Twitter as a violation of its standards. Wachowich did not respond to a request for comment.

As is her way, Kanarek is fighting back.

In flurries of posts since her attack, Kanarek has replied to strangers, friends and foes, unspooling her version of events and reminding the people who pile up on her that she was nearly killed.

"No matter what - I was shot twice. It was not in self-defense. While plenty more story exists, what else matters?" she wrote in one response. "Do you condone trainers shooting their students trying to kill them? Sure looks that way."

Kanarek met Barisone at a horse competition in Wellington, Florida, in 2018. She decided to move her horses from North Carolina to his Hawthorne Hill farm in Long Valley, in the heart of New Jersey's horse country, for the chance to train with an Olympic great, she said.

As part of the arrangement, she and her fiance, Robert Goodwin, would live on the property, in an apartment in a farmhouse where Barisone lived.

Tensions grew after a flood in the farmhouse forced Barisone and his fiancee to move into a barn on the property, Kanarek said. Barisone tried to kick Kanarek and Goodwin out of the apartment, according to Kanarek, so he could live there; they refused.

A month before the shooting, Barisone began contacting people who had online disputes with Kanarek. He told them that he was trying to build a legal case against Kanarek and Goodwin, and eject them from his property.

Joey Ann Stagaard, a hair restoration specialist from New Jersey, received one such call about a week before the shooting.

"'I know that you are a victim of this girl Lauren's torture, and she is on our farm,' " Stagaard recalled Barisone telling her over the phone.

"He said, 'She is causing nothing but havoc here; we are losing our minds.' "

Stagaard has been embroiled in a long online spat with Kanarek, whom she has never met, over a former shared love interest, she said. Her public animus toward Kanarek has continued even after the shooting.

Stagaard was one of several women, including a North Carolina-based horsewomen named Kathryn Parkinson, who filed a complaint last spring to the U.S. Equestrian Federation and SafeSport, a nonprofit organization that investigates various forms of misconduct in Olympic sports. They accused Kanarek of bullying.

The federation said the complaint was investigated and found not to merit any action. "It seemed to us more like a personal matter," said Vicki Lowell, a spokeswoman for the federation.

Separately, Kanarek said she had complained to SafeSport about Barisone this summer. Dan Hill, a spokesman for SafeSport, said he could not confirm whether a report was filed.

In the meantime, the situation at Hawthorne Hill worsened in the weeks before the shooting: Police were summoned to the farm at least six times, according to recordings of 911 calls placed by Kanarek, her family and Barisone.

"These people have been living here, and they're causing us hell," Barisone told the operator July 31, according to recordings obtained by news site Patch.

Three days before the attack, on Aug. 4, Barisone called 911 a final time. "I'm taking my life back," he told the operator.

When police responded the day of the shooting, they found Barisone pinned beneath Goodwin, a black and pink 9-millimeter Ruger pistol under both of them. The police report indicated that he also shot at Goodwin but missed.

As medical personnel and police officers circled through, Barisone was overheard repeating the same sentence: "I had a good life."

Barisone is being held in a Morris County jail, after being refused bail by a judge. His current lawyer, Edward J. Bilinkas, did not respond to multiple emails and calls requesting comment.

To Kanarek and her lawyer, the details of the spiraling conflict between trainer and student, whether bandied about in the courtroom or on Facebook, are beside the point.

"She is the victim here, and she was fighting for her life and trying to recover, while at the same time being attacked," her lawyer, Andrew O'Connor, said. "A disconnect that a lot of these trolls can't get over, is that, 'I've seen this guy from afar, and I see his bronze medal, and so it must be her.' "

Kanarek concurred, saying that it was difficult to "go online and see every single person talking about you."

She pulled up her blouse to reveal two entry wounds in her rib cage.

"Every part of my body and soul and mind is just thinking, I should be on my horses, riding," she said. "Instead, I was shot."

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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