Friends, strangers gather along procession to pay tribute to officer
Matt Gade, Deseret News
DRAPER — Hundreds of American flags and blue ribbons whipped in the wind along 12300 South Friday as thousands gathered to honor a fallen police officer.
Children waved flags as their parents explained in hushed voices that they were there to pay tribute to Sgt. Derek Johnson as his funeral cortège passed. A few told stories of the officer, some cried, and many were silent as hundreds of cars, motorcycles and law enforcement officers from all over the state passed by.
"This is just a testament of what he was about," Jeannie Johnson said of the enormous outpouring of support for the slain officer. "Any mother would be proud to have a man like that."
Nadeane Palacios clung to a daughter as her two other daughters clung to each other. They all cried together as the funeral procession passed. Palacios said the girls' father is a police officer.
"It's a hard thing because you feel grateful that the person that you love is safe, but it causes a feeling of selfishness," she said. "You can't imagine what his wife and son and family are experiencing."
Kevin Angus, a firefighter, worked with Johnson. When he heard the news of Johnson's death, he said it was like a "big sock in the gut."
Angus said Johnson was laid-back, easy, and had a good sense of humor. He said Johnson pulled him over a few times for speeding and asked him, “Hey, where’s the fire?”
"He had a really good sense of humor no matter what it was. He was pleasant to be around," he said, adding — with a bit of the humor Johnson might have used — "for a police officer."
Liz Bringhurst saw Johnson and his wife grow up. She said Shante Johnson is the most positive person she's ever known, and said her husband was a “great boy.”
"I've seen him defuse situations that were little things that could have turned into big things," she said. “(He) made situations good, just a good guy.”
Lisa Dahl brought four blue signs for her children to hold, each carrying part of the message: "Thanks for keeping us safe."
She didn't know Johnson but said, "Our heart just bleeds" for the man who protected her children for eight years.
"We just want the family to know that I'm grateful," she said. "I want (Johnson's) kid to see that his dad was keeping my kids safe."
Charlie Pitts, 8, knew he wanted to wear his Boy Scout uniform to show respect as he watched the procession. He said he felt sad that Johnson didn't get a chance to speak with the man in the car who is accused of shooting and killing him.
"I wish there was something I could do to prevent it," the boy said.
About 900 students and faculty from Juan Diego Catholic High School left school to stand along the roadside, each of them holding a flag. Principal Galey Colosimo said the picture of Johnson most people have seen — with the "youthful, 17-year-old smile" — represents the kind of man he was.
"He was a 32-year-old man but looked so young and was so positive and energetic," he said. "That's the best way to remember Derek — loving, caring, outgoing."
Morgan Richards and Ashlyn Anderson, cheerleaders at Juan Diego, said after a game two days before the shooting, Johnson stayed after everyone else had left to give the girls high-fives after each lap they ran.
"You look at how dedicated he was to making the community better," Richards said.
Colosimo said Johnson paid the ultimate price, but the community of Draper and the state of Utah sent a bigger message Friday.
"Just because there's evil doesn't mean we have to tolerate it," he said. "The goodness in our community outweighs evil."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: EmileeEagar
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