Now Alla Barney is dead and her husband has been charged with murder. The couple's 4-year-old son faces an uncertain future.
Police say Lester S. "Stuart" Barney, 58, killed his 26-year-old wife in the parking lot of the KinderCare center in Mount Laurel on Monday and abducted their son, Daniel. Prosecutors said the boy may have witnessed the fatal stabbing of his mother.
Earlier in the day, the couple had attended a court hearing on a restraining order that Alla Barney filed against her husband. She was awarded temporary custody of their son.
About 5:15 p.m., Lester Barney went to KinderCare to visit the boy and parked his Mercedes-Benz at a church next door, authorities said. He confronted his wife in the parking lot and stabbed her in the neck with a knife, then took his son and left, authorities said.
About 6 p.m., a day-care worker noticed Alla Barney's compact car still sitting in the lot and found her on the vehicle's floor. She was declared dead at the scene.
Around 8 p.m., state police initiated an Amber Alert, broadcasting the description of Lester Barney, his car and his son.
Within the hour, Lester Barney dropped the boy off with a woman he knew from the Russian Orthodox church he and his wife attended in Philadelphia. He asked the woman, a Voorhees resident, to watch the boy for the night. She called police and the alert was canceled at 9 p.m.
A short time later, a Cherry Hill officer spotted Lester Barney's car stopped in the Kingston section. Barney remained in the car and threatened suicide.
Eventually, Lester Barney threw out a knife and surrendered. He had cut his arms and abdomen. He was treated at Kennedy Memorial Hospital and released to police custody.
At an initial hearing yesterday, a Burlington County judge set Lester Barney's bail at $500,000 and said that, if he posted bond, he could not have contact with his son. He must undergo a psychological evaluation, the judge ruled.
At the hearing, Carl J. Roeder, Barney's attorney, said, "Mr. Barney was an exceptionally good and attentive father."
"Today we have a mother who is dead, a good father who is in jail, and a 4-year-old child cast into the institutional winds," he said.
The state Division of Youth and Family Services will allow the woman who cared for the boy Monday night to keep him temporarily, officials said.
Prosecutors have not pieced together how Alla Barney came to this country, other than to say she met her husband through a "mail-order bride" service. They were married on Sept. 4, 1998, in Elkton, Md.
Recently, they both worked at Oki Data, a company that makes computer printers. She had worked for a year as a software engineer at the company's Mount Laurel headquarters. He worked for five years as a production technician at a Cherry Hill plant.
Roger Wilson, a neighbor in the Westmont section of Haddon Township, said the Barneys struck him as a typical married couple with a young child on whom they doted.
The first sign of trouble that Wilson said he noticed came on a snowy Saturday last winter when he saw Alla walking down the street looking distraught. Later that day, police came to the house and Lester Barney moved out for the first time.
There were other visits from the police, but Wilson said he never heard any shouting.
Alla, he said, spoke English well with a husky voice without inflection. Lester, he said, had a "mild disposition."
Wilson said he was surprised to learn that Lester Barney was 58 years old. "He told me he was 47 last year," Wilson said.
Lester Barney filed for divorce on March 20, alleging his wife had been having an affair since January 2002. Robert J. Borbe, Lester Barney's divorce attorney, said the case was pending.
"This is just tragic," he said. "What's so unfortunate is that essentially what we have is an orphan."
Lester Barney moved out for the last time after his wife filed an assault complaint against him on July 5, Roeder said.
Alla Barney said her husband grabbed her around the neck during an argument. A temporary restraining order was filed against her husband. In court papers, Alla Barney said she also had filed a restraining order in November 2001.
On July 7, Lester Barney countered with an assault complaint of his own, saying Alla hit him in the back, making him fall and "hit his head and right forearm on the shower stall and faucet."
Roeder said his client may have felt he was treated unfairly during the domestic-violence proceedings.
"The first person who gets to the police station is the one whose story is given credibility," he said.
As part of the restraining order, Haddon Township police confiscated ammunition, a switchblade knife and a canister of Mace.
Michelle Anderson, a Villanova University Law School professor who has studied the issue of domestic violence and mail-order brides, said that in general, mail-order-bride relationships are on shaky ground. Not only are language and culture potential obstacles, she said, but often each partner has a different set of expectations.
Men tend to want younger, docile brides who will cater to their every need while the women are looking to escape poverty and taste some freedom in America, she said.
"The misconceptions on both sides about what they're getting into means tremendous miscommunication and stress on the relationship," Anderson said. "The kind of tragedy this case represents is not unique."
Bills were introduced in Congress in August that would require background checks of Americans seeking foreign spouses and the education of immigrants on American laws and rights.
Layli Miller-Muro, executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center in Falls Church, Va., which promotes justice for women and girls worldwide and was involved with the proposed law, said her group found 400 Internet sites operating mail-order bride services. She estimated that between one-third and one-half of the 24,000 "fiancee visas" filed last year grew out of Internet courtships.
Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 856-779-3893 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Joel Bewley contributed to this report