This is the beginning of the celebrations for Derek Johnson and the hero he was, and the public servant he was. —Draper Police Chief Bryan Roberts
WEST VALLEY CITY — Six officers escorted the casket of Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson onto the floor of the Maverik Center arena late Thursday afternoon.
Half of the casket was draped with an American flag. The other half was opened for friends and family members to pay their last respects.
The six officers all saluted in unison before two of them took their posts on either side of the casket.
"This is the beginning of the celebrations for Derek Johnson and the hero he was, and the public servant he was," Draper Police Chief Bryan Roberts said.
The public viewing at the Maverik Center marked the beginning of two days of services to mourn, honor and celebrate the life of Johnson who was shot and killed in the line of duty Sunday. Draper police have kept constant watch over their fallen brother, as is police tradition, since the incident.
Johnson's family all arrived at the Maverik Center in one motorcade. Six-year-old Bensen wore his dad's badge around his neck, leading the way, while holding onto his mother's hand.
Johnson's love for his wife, Shante, and his son, plus the ever present smile on his boyish face were common themes as members of the public gathered to honor and remember the man who paid the ultimate price while serving and protecting his community.
"Every time you saw him he was smiling — pretty happy go lucky. Whenever he was with his little boy, you could just see he was happy," said Allen Dubisan, whose wife works with Shante Johnson.
"That smile that you see in all of his pictures, that's the smile he always had. I don't think I ever saw him not smile at ya. Even if he didn't have anything to say, he'd just smile the whole time listening," added family friend Tanji Noorlander.
Inside the Maverik Center, where Friday's funeral services will be held starting at 11 a.m., Johnson's casket was surrounded by several bouquets of flowers that had been donated by other law enforcement agencies and the community.
Several tables filled with photos of Johnson and his family were on display. Johnson and his wife met in middle school, and several of the pictures dated back to their high school prom.
"He loved Shante so much. You could always see it. He was always happy. He could make anyone smile," said Brittany Derbidge, who often babysits Bensen.
"He just loved his family. He would do anything for his family," said Johnson's neighbor, Nicole Metcalf. "His son just loved him. He was amazing with Bensen."
"He loved all the kids in the neighborhood. He would blast his siren or let them see his car and such. He was a pretty cool guy to have around the neighborhood. He'd kind of watch over the neighborhood, make sure everything was safe. Awesome guy," added Kyle Metcalf.
Other mementos on display included Johnson's SWAT team vest, his patch from the Metro Gang Unit, his 2012 Draper Police Officer of the Year award and his Distinguished Service medal. Photos framed with the words "End of Watch" were also on exhibit as tribute.
"It's really sad to see a (police officer) pass away in such a tragic manner. It will choke you up. But we'll get through this as a community, as a police community. It's just very, very sad," said South Salt Lake police officer Gary Keller who had to pause and choke back tears.
"When one of us falls, we're all there to help in whatever way we can," said Ogden Police Sgt. Cameron Stiver, who traveled to West Valley City to attend the viewing.
Some of Johnson's favorite personal items were also on display, such as the bow and arrows he went hunting with, his baseball glove and cleats.
Outside the Maverik Center, the digital sign above the main entrance displayed the words: "All gave some, some gave all. Thank you Sgt. Derek Johnson."
The electronic marquee overlooking I-215 displayed a picture of Johnson with the words, "In memory of " American flags were set up all around the property. At the front doors to the arena, a large U.S. flag hung between two fire department ladder trucks with their buckets lifted into the air.
"I just get a rush of emotions," Roberts said, with red and glassy eyes, reflecting on the show of support from the community and the law enforcement brotherhood. "To see all these flags that are displayed out here, you can't help but get a rush and to feel that. And this reminds you of the duty we have in public safety and the risk that we take. And we do that freely. We know the consequences. But we do it for a higher purpose. We do it to serve the communities we love so much."
Roberts described the viewing as a somber atmosphere.
"The family is greeting those that have come from the community and people are hugging and embracing. It's a beautiful tribute to Derek," he said.
Following Friday's funeral service, the interment will be held at Larkin Mortuary, 1950 E. 10600 South.
"This hurts so much. But we'll move forward. That's what we do in law enforcement. We serve the community, and that's our mission. That mission will never stop," Roberts said.