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Hundreds gather in support of fallen Draper police officer

Published: Sunday, Sept. 1 2013 10:00 p.m. MDT

Sgt. Derek Johnson's Aunt Sherrie Bowman, right, and her son Nick and friend Alex Wyker hold candles during a vigil is held in his honor in Draper Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Johnson was shot and killed this morning.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

DRAPER — American flags and blue, yellow and black ribbons lined the grounds of Draper City Hall, where nearly 500 community members gathered Sunday night for a candlelight vigil in honor of fallen Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson.

They were joined by family members that included cousins, his grandmother and aunt, and city leaders, all of whom came to honor the sacrifice of a Draper officer, the first in the city's history to lose his life in the line of duty.

Draper City Mayor Darrell Smith described Johnson's "unbelievable, never-ending optimistic positive attitude." He said he sometimes looked at Johnson more as a son than as a police officer, in part because of the age proximity with his own children and because of Johnson's contributions to Draper City.

"He brought a lot of good to this community, he brought a lot of good to our police department," Smith said. "We're a good community and we're a great community. We'll continue forward and we'll support those who need the support and we'll continue to learn from these life lessons."

Johnson died Sunday morning after coming under fire and crashing his vehicle into a tree. Draper Police Chief Bryan Roberts said Johnson came across a car parked about 6 a.m. when he was "ambushed" by a man who began firing at Johnson while he drove down the street.

Sunday night, family members and supporters standing shoulder-to-shoulder gathered to pay their respects following a day of investigation, sadness, and now recovery.

"This is a beautiful sight to see all of you come together for Sgt. Johnson," Roberts said during the vigil. "Derek is as good as they come. He was a dedicated public servant, dedicated to the public safety of this community and he had such a strong heart for service."

Several members of the Draper City Council also spoke during the vigil, all of whom commended Johnson for his character and expressed that he would be missed as a member of both the police force and the community.

"In death, as in life, officer Johnson, Derek, my friend, my protector, is bringing our community together," said councilman Bill Rappleye. "I see him here with us tonight."

Sharri Jensen, a teacher at Draper's Corner Canyon High School, attended the vigil with her husband Evan Jensen. They said the didn't know Johnson personally but were saddened by the news of his death.

"Even though we didn't know him we can from tonight know how great a man he was," Evan Jensen said.

Draper resident Diana Veenendaal said she heard sirens early in the morning and was at home with her daughter when she first heard the news of the shooting. She said she went around the house locking doors and checking on her neighbors.

"It was just a really odd feeling," she said.

That sentiment was echoed by City Councilman Jeff Stenquist, who expressed his appreciation for the men and women who put their lives in harm's way every day to ensure the safety of others.

"Sometimes we don't think that these types of incidents happen in Draper but they certainly can and certainly have today," Stenquist said.

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee released a statement on Sunday expressing his condolences for Johnson's family.

"I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of Draper City Police Sergeant Derek Johnson," Lee said. "My wife Sharon and I are praying for the family and for our law enforcement community as they begin to cope with this loss. Days such as this are a reminder of the commitment, courage and sacrifice so often displayed by those who protect and defend our neighborhoods and cities."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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