2 arrests bring peace to family of Saluda County murder victim

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Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 9:27 AM EST
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SALUDA, S.C. (WIS) - The family of a Ridge Spring man who was murdered last month near a pond is sharing their relief after two arrests have been made in the death that’s part of a surge in deadly crimes that’s claimed more than 60 lives since spring in the CSRA.

On Nov. 19, a hunter discovered 22-year-old Zonnie Cyrus’ body along Hiland Farm Road near Monetta. That is a secluded dirt road in Saluda County off Padgett Pond Road and about four miles from the Monetta Drive-In Theatre.

According to the Saluda County Sheriff’s Office, Cyrus was shot seven times.

Brittney Cyrus, Zonnie’s cousin, said that while these arrests are not going to bring him back, it gives her family some closure, and she can now finally say “rest in peace” to her cousin.

“To be honest, this is the best Christmas gift anybody could have or ask for to have arrests made fast and soon,” she said.

Last week, deputies arrested Earl Valentine and Montavis Barnes in connection with Cyrus’ killing.

From left: Earl Valentine and Montavis Barnes
From left: Earl Valentine and Montavis Barnes(Contributed)

Valentine is charged with murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

Barnes is charged with accessory to murder after the fact.

“It’s still tough because we have this new year coming in, and what I can say is that for the arrests being made before this year ends, it means a lot to me and my family,” Brittney said.

While Brittney acknowledged that there is still a “long way to go” in the fight for justice, she is grateful to the Saluda County Sheriff’s Office for its work on this case.

Since the body was found, the family has pleaded for justice in the case.

Zonnie Cyrus was found deceased by a pond in Saluda County.
Zonnie Cyrus was found deceased by a pond in Saluda County.(clear)

“It means a whole lot that they worked and worked day and night on this case to get these people off the streets,” she said. “I can say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Words really can’t explain it, but emotions can tell it all.”

Both Valentine and Barnes have prior criminal records.

Valentine has pending charges from last month on kidnapping and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

Barnes pleaded guilty to a drug charge in July of this year.

Deputies have not yet released a motive in this case.

“I still want answers why they did this, and you know, I just want to know, everybody wants to know why? Why?” Brittney said.

Brittney said Christmas was difficult, as she would often spend holidays with Zonnie. He would light up every room with his smile, she said.

In the month since his death, Brittney said some days are harder than others, and there have been some sleepless nights.

She is relying on her faith to find peace.

“I put my trust in God,” Brittney said. “Only thing I can do is praise Him. I’m happy. I never gave up. Some people lost their faith, some don’t. But me, I’m a strong believer, I’m a strong believer in God. And the only thing I can say. Look at God. Look at God. God did it. He stepped in on time. And that’s the best feeling anybody could have.”

WIS reached out to the Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday to ask whether there could be additional arrests in this case but did not receive a response.

Valentine’s bond was denied, and Barnes’ has been set at $100,000.

Both are being held at the Saluda County Detention Center.