EXCLUSIVE: Girlfriend of slain Atlanta DJ recounts his life, death

The girlfriend of a popular Atlanta DJ gunned down in front of his home this week recalled how she cradled the dying man's head while frantically administering first-aid with the help of 911 operators.

Shonté Renee watched helplessly as William Fernando Barnes, better known as DJ Nando, took his last breath in the driveway of their Morrow home early Tuesday morning.

“I said, ‘Baby, get up! Get up!’ He was not responding,” she recalled.

As friends prepare to remember Barnes at a vigil scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Club Onyx, Renee sat down for an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Renee, who had not talked in detail about the killing before the interview, said she pressed bath towels against his head to try to stanch the flow of blood.

“I was in the house upstairs. I heard the gunshots. I was scared. Nando was the type to tell me, ‘Stay in the house if you hear gunshots.’ He wanted to protect me. I slowly went downstairs and peeked out the window.”

She saw her boyfriend of two years on the ground near his Jeep.

“He was caught completely off-guard,” she said. “I screamed and I called the ambulance.”

Once authorities arrived, they ushered Renee upstairs to change clothes. By the time she came back downstairs, police had put a white sheet over Barnes. That was when the magnitude of the crime hit Renee.

Now a couple of days later, Renee is still coming to terms with why anyone would want the quiet, laid-back DJ dead.

“He’s not the type of guy to have any beef with anybody,” she said. “Everybody thinks (strip clubs are) bad. I don’t want people to judge him off his job and what he did. He was a normal guy outside the strip club. He was family-oriented.”

DJ Nando, who helped launch the careers of artists Cash Out, Rocko, Young Jeezy, Future, Migos and 2 Chainz, had just arrived home from work around 3:30 a.m. when he was shot at close range in the right temple.

Renee recounted how after the assailant shot Barnes, the still-unidentified man ran away, leaving behind Barnes’ laptop, money and other valuables.

The Clayton County Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have made no arrests in the case, which remains under investigation.

“This guy is selfish and grimy to take a life like that,” Renee said, sitting in the living room of the home the couple shared. “He saw me come in before (Barnes). So he knew somebody who loved him and cared for him lived here. Somebody was definitely watching us.”

As was the rest of the rap and hip hop world in metro Atlanta.

The 38-year-old DJ "with the infectious aura" had ascended into the region's music scene. He was part of a powerful Atlanta music clique of strip-club DJs known as Coalition DJs, a group featured in a page one Wall Street Journal story last summer. The Coalition DJs helped up-and-coming artists get exposure by playing their music in the strip clubs for a fee.

Renee said Barnes had just inked a deal to work in a third strip club, The Diamond Club on Northside Drive in Atlanta. He and Renee had recently launched a clothing line called “Da Army,” a collection of women’s exotic wear along with warm-up suits and hoodies for men. He was working on deals in New Orleans and Miami and was putting together a debut album of his own, she said.

“He had a lot of stuff going on at the beginning of the new year,” said Renee, a petite, attractive woman who met the DJ through mutual friends two years ago. A picture of the couple sits on the mantle over the living room fireplace.

She says she has no idea who would have done this.

“Whatever it was, it was pure hatred. He was nice. He was cool.”

Barnes, the youngest of a close-knit family in Richmond, Va., had been spinning, mixing and producing music since the age of 14. He got his start in a D.C. studio.

His reputation made him the “go-to guy” in the Atlanta music scene. He built an impressive following through his DJing in adult entertainment clubs, where radio stations flocked to find the best and latest sounds. Rap and hip hop artists would seek him out to polish and perfect their work, hoping it would lead to record contracts.

“He broke a lot of music in terms of street sound. He’d polish the music, then play it,” said Richard Hannah, Barnes’ brother-in-law who has known the slain DJ since he was 14 years old.

“You needed his stamp of approval,” said Stephanie Moseley, Renee’s best friend who has stayed by her side since Barnes was killed.

During the interview, Renee gave a brief tour of the home the couple was renovating. The grey ranch-style home with iron burglar bars on the door and windows sits in a quiet cul-de-sac overlooking a small lake. Now that Barnes is gone she says she doesn’t think she can stay in the home.

“It’s different if he had been shot in the streets,” Renee said. “But for someone to come to your place of rest, it took away my safety.”

In addition to Friday night’s vigil at Onyx, a wake will be held from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday at Donald Trimble Mortuary, 1876 Second Ave., Decatur. Details of the funeral, which will be held in Richmond, Va., are incomplete. Friends have set up a memorial fund at Wells Fargo to help Barnes’ mother with expenses.

“We just want to pay for everything,” said Sabrena “Ramey” Swinger, a house mom at Onyx. “She’s allowing us to hold a memorial (in Atlanta). They have to do something there. We want to make it easier for her.”

Barnes is survived by an 11-year-old daughter.