WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - About two years ago Steve Barton found his first piece of cardboard and black Sharpie marker.
"When I got broke I thought I'd go out there, fly a sign, make a couple bucks, get a couple beers and some cigarettes and haul ass from there," Barton said.
On most days, he pulled in between $30-$60.
"Nine times out of ten I am impeding traffic by flying a sign, I do realize where I'm at," Barton admitted. "I also know I can cause a wreck. I also know I'm not supposed to be there."
Barton had so many interactions with officers he became rather well known, especially to Officer Josh Trantham.
Over time the two struck up something of a friendship. Barton's honesty and repeated attempts to better himself always stood out to Trantham. Barton always appreciated Trantham's compassion and willingness to talk to him as a
We met Barton not far from The Good Shephard shelter, though he was no longer allowed to stay there after a confrontation with a staff member.
Barton was as rough around the edges as you might expect for a man who had been sleeping on the sidewalk for years. But three things stuck out within seconds of his hello: he had the biggest, brightest smile you could imagine, he had a deep voice destine for radio and commercials, and he was brutally honest. Let's add a fourth: Steve had an undeniable warmth in the short time we were able to talk with him.
When asked if handing money out the window to panhandlers was helping their situation, Barton bluntly replied: "No."
He confessed that the money people gave him helped him to do one thing: buy alcohol.
Unlike everyone else, Barton insisted that his face not be shown. He said he was too embarrassed and he knew that his honesty would likely cost him any future donations.
We sat with him in the grass as he went through his life from family man to beggar. We would only see Barton one more time, on the corner of 17th Street holding his sign, before he was murdered.
In late April, two men allegedly executed Barton in an alley near Greenfield Lake. There was no apparent motive.
"From all the details we know about the situation, it was a completely random act of violence," said Jason Mitchell of Vigilant Hope.
Jason Michell and Jeremy Hardy, the Directors of Vigilant Hope, met Barton six years ago when he arrived at their door.
"He wanted to be a part of our team and that's what kind of zoned me into him," Hardy said. "He was willing to do anything and everything just to get to know us. He actually cared about us. He wasn't in it for the food. He was in it for the relationship."
The two have stories about Barton attending their weddings and family events. He was known to be protective of women and children and would be the first to jump at the opportunity to help someone else even though he, himself was very much in need of help.
"He was always wanting to improve," Mitchell said. "Just didn't quite know how to escape the situation."
Barton had cycled through sober stints, hospital stays and programs but had not been able to grasp a long stay in any kind of stable lifestyle. Yet he was not without goals.
"I want to get my license back, get my life back together," Barton told us, looking off into the distance. "This time I want to get back on the road, get my Class A CDL and get back on the road and hit the highways and I'm gone."
A few days later Barton was killed.
All the money he was handed through a cracked window over so many years, had not changed his fate.