At 73, Navy Yard victim John Johnson still loved his work

At 73, Navy Yard victim John Johnson still loved his work

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John Johnson wasn't the retiring type. At 73 years old, he still lived in the Derwood, Md., home he bought more than 40 years ago and he still went to work at the Navy Yard every day. On Monday, a gunman shot and killed him, along with 11 others.

"I am just so shocked and stunned,” his wife Judy Johnson said. “We were going to retire soon. He loved his job and wanted to keep working because he loved it.”

He worked for a Navy contractor in Building 197, where the gunman opened fire.

For hours, Johnson's wife and daughters watched news of the shooting unfold. Their calls to him went unanswered. At first that didn't worry them because he wasn't always good about carrying his cell phone. So they waited. Finally his daughters went to Nationals Park where families were being reunited with their loved ones.

"After the last of the buses had emptied out the survivors, we were still there," said daughter Erin Zagami.

"The Red Cross was breaking down," added her sister Megan Johnson, and they were still there.

That is when police broke the news.

"They let us know that dad had not been one of the survivors," said Zagami.

Heartbroken, they now had to relay the devastating news to his wife still waiting at home. Investigators have not told them any details about what happened, where Johnson was, or even how he died.

On the day of the shooting, Johnson got up for work at 3:45 a.m. He said goodbye to his wife.

"He always said, ‘Goodbye beautiful. I love you so much. You have a good day and God bless you,’" she said.

He headed to the Navy Yard, where he often parked a mile away to get in his exercise. Around 7:30 a.m., about 45 minutes before the shooting, Judy and John spoke on the phone. Everything was okay.

"We talked for a few minutes. We always told each other we loved each other and that was the last," she said.

The family doesn't try to make sense of the shooting -- with something like this, they can't. They called him proud to be an American, describing him as a happy, positive, loving human being. He was also a man of great religious faith.

"I guess it was his time to go to the Lord," his wife said.

They believe he would want them to celebrate his life and the memories. Amid the tears, they sometimes laughed recounting family stories.

He loved to fish, they said, and always wore his lucky fishing shirt. He loved the Redskins too. But he loved his family most of all, and giving hugs, big bear hugs.

"Dad was never without a smile,” his daughter Shannon Woodward said. “So that is something we will take with us and we have to carry on."

They had a large blended family. Johnson was a widower when he met his wife Judy. They were married for eight years. He had four daughters, she had four children, and together they had 10 grandchildren with another grandchild on the way.

"He was going to be greatly missed by a lot of people,” Judy Johnson said. “He was a great father, a great grandfather and just an awesome human being. I loved him very much.”

As details about the gunman's troubled past emerge and his mental health issues, the family can't understand how the warning signs were missed.

"I don't know how in the world he got the clearance to be able to get into the Navy Yard with those weapons to begin with," his wife said, the only time she spoke specifically about the shooter.

Still the family says Johnson would not want them to dwell on that.

"He'd want us to embrace even the shooter's family,” said daughter Karin Johnson. “You don't harbor ill will. His thing was always about forgiving."

If he had encountered the gunman, they believe he would have tried to talk him down to save other lives. He had never raised any concerns to them about his security.


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