Marion Christopher Barry, son of the late D.C. mayor Marion Barry and a former candidate for the Ward 8 council seat, died early Sunday, friends and authorities said. He was 36.
The younger Barry suffered an apparent drug overdose, those close to him said, although no official cause of death was confirmed Sunday. A D.C. police incident report said that just after midnight, Barry stepped outside of a residence on Pomeroy Road SE and smoked K-2 — a type of synthetic drug — and PCP, a hallucinogen he had struggled with in the past.
“Upon returning,” the report said, Barry acted erratically, “and then he suddenly ‘dropped.’ ”
Barry was found by his girlfriend. He was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:11 a.m.
The younger Barry had struggled with drug use, friends said. He ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 8 council seat last year after his father died.
In a statement, Cora Masters Barry, Christopher’s stepmother and the widow of Marion Barry, said she was devastated by the younger Barry’s death.
“My heart is broken,” she said. “I am in shock. The news of his death is beyond comprehension.”
Barry is survived by his grandmother Polly Lee Harris.
Liz Matory, 36, the campaign manager in his run for the Ward 8 seat, said Barry was reflective in his final days and hours, trying to plot his next move. Coming off the election loss, reeling from the death of his father and that of close friend A.J. Cooper in 2014, and working to secure bids for his construction business, Barry was at a crossroads in life, friends said. He weathered it with support from friends but often felt alone, they said.
Saturday evening, Matory and Barry were rushing to return a rented truck after gathering his belongings from an apartment in Northwest Washington where he had been planning to move. The landlord apparently had decided that he didn’t want new tenants.
Compounding Barry’s frustration, friends said, he’d recently lost the home of his late father because he was unable to keep up with the payments on it.
“There’s so many things that are broken. There’s so much stress on his mind and spirit,” Matory said. “By losing the house, he felt another loss because that was his place that he’d go to remember his dad.”
Matory said Barry had made an effort to heal in recent months. The new apartment, near Rock Creek Park, was ideal for running along the trail, an activity that brought him peace. And he’d made strides toward sobriety, she said. He talked about enrolling at the University of the District of Columbia to finish his architecture degree.
Those close to Barry saw shades of his father in his ambition and his shortcomings.
Friends rooted for his success, thinking he would overcome his missteps. They saw him as a leader whose life and career were on the upswing and never envisioned his story concluding so abruptly.
“He was like a champion that we were all kind of rallying to see him win,” Matory said. “He took on the responsibility of everyone without having the foundation and strength to focus first on himself, you know.”
She added: “He was very strong. And he was able to handle a lot. And I think he inherited that from his father. But he also inherited the hubris, where he was like, ‘I can handle this.’ ”
Carl Thomas, a childhood friend who served as Barry’s field director in his campaign for the council, said he perfectly embodied the spirit of his late parents, Effi and Marion Barry.
“Effi was an amazing woman, full of character; Marion was an amazing man full of ambition,” Thomas said. “And they made a Christopher who was full of ambition and full of character and carried with him the beauty of his mother and the ills of his father.”
Barry was 9 when was father was arrested in an FBI sting, thrusting the family into the national spotlight.
The elder Barry was arrested on drug charges on Jan. 18, 1990, after being videotaped smoking crack in an FBI sting.
That night, Effi Barry recalled in a series of earlier interviews with The Washington Post, “I didn’t know what to do. I ran into the room and I looked at my son. He was still sleeping soundly. I just stood there and cried.”
His parents divorced in 1993, and Barry went to live with his mother. Brushes with the law ensued as he entered adulthood. He was charged with punching a police officer in 2005 after the officer, smelling marijuana, entered the apartment Barry was visiting.
Two years later, his mother died of cancer.
He was recognized for the powerful eulogy he delivered.
Upon his father’s death, Barry was drafted to carry the political torch. But he encountered difficulties getting organized, meeting campaign deadlines and staying out of trouble. Last year, his campaign for D.C. Council was thwarted by an outburst in a Chinatown bank in which he allegedly threw a trash can over a panel of security glass and threatened a bank teller who refused to withdraw $20,000 from his account, telling him it was overdrawn.
That image was a departure from the Barry who had, little more than a month earlier, reflected candidly on his father before thousands. At 34, he had eulogized both of his parents.
Barry described his father as sometimes absent but a gifted politician and theoretical gardener.
“He sees a barren strip of land, he tills the soil, he chases the snakes away,” he said. “He planted seeds in people’s lives. He planted hope in people who didn’t have hope.”
Barry, the late mayor’s only child, said the legacy of his father was not limited to one person.
“They say D.C. will never be the same because Marion Barry’s gone,” he said. “They’re right, because now there’s thousands of — millions of Marion Barrys out there. He’ll never die.”
Trayon White, the Democratic nominee for the Ward 8 council seat and a protege of the senior Barry, called Christopher Barry a friend who will be missed.
“Chris was like a brother to me. He cared about the community. He had a lot of things that he wanted to work on to better the community,” White said.
White, the younger Barry and a dozen others had run to fill the council vacancy left by Marion Barry’s death in November 2014. LaRuby May (D-Ward 8) won that special election. But in the election this year for a full, four-year term to succeed the former mayor, the younger Barry had endorsed White, who prevailed in the Democratic primary.
Christopher Barry had started a construction firm, he said in an interview with The Post in the fall. He said he was trying to form a community business enterprise, a minority firm that could compete for city contracts. Thomas said Barry sought to employ the disenfranchised — residents with little hope and narrow job prospects who hailed from Ward 8, the district he lived to improve, according to friends.
White said Barry was on the site of one of his construction projects in Southeast as late as Saturday.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) memorialized the younger Barry on her Twitter account.
“Let’s remember the brightest days! Rest in peace dear Christopher!” she posted, along with a photo of the two of them.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he was saddened to hear of Barry’s death, putting it in the context of the late mayor’s life.
“Christopher Barry’s untimely passing is a sad ending to the Marion Barry legacy,” he said in a statement. “Christopher never asked for the burden that comes with being part of a famous politician’s family. We know he cared deeply about our city – his hometown from birth to death. And that his parents cared deeply for him. My condolences to those whom he is survived.”
May said in an interview that “My relationship with Christopher extended before and beyond us being on the ballot.”
“One of the things I appreciated about him was his commitment to the people in our community,” May said. “ As a small-business owner Christopher continued the legacy of his father by many times offering job opportunities to people.”
Fairley McCaskill, Barry’s close friend, said his death was especially tragic because he was working to turn his troubled image around.
“Chris is someone I grew up with and now he’s gone,” McCaskill said. “This is surreal. Those who really knew Chris knew that he marched to his own beat, and we loved that about him. He had a big heart,” she said. “I think a lot of times he was misunderstood based on how he was portrayed in the media, which our goal was to shift that image and portrayal during his campaign run, and help people to get to know him the way we knew him. He was a one-of-a-kind type of guy and he will be missed tremendously.”
Thomas, who attended Jefferson Junior High with Barry, recalled the pressure Barry faced as his father was rocked by political scandal.
Thomas said children pelted the young Barry with oranges and crack pipes and taunted him in the schoolyard.
“Either people thought he was too good, people thought he was the child of a crackhead, people thought he was a waste — people had all types of perceptions of Christopher that were not okay,” he said. “None of us had to grow up with that.”
Later in life, he said, Barry struggled to find a shoulder to lean on. Especially after the death of his mother.
“No one could really understand what he was going through.”
Aaron C. Davis and Luz Lazo contributed to this report.