Shante Johnson was in seventh grade when she began leaving notes from a secret admirer in the locker of her husband-to-be.
"Derek and I are soulmates," she said tearfully Monday night, one year after Draper Sgt. Derek Johnson was gunned down at the end of a graveyard shift. "I don’t think many 12-year-olds make it to the altar of eternity and stay that way."
After a year of somber, heartbreaking services, Monday’s memorial brought both laughter and tears to the 200 friends, relatives, colleagues and community members gathered at the Draper Historic Park, just 1 mile from where Timothy Troy Walker, high on methamphetamine, shot a bullet into Johnson’s chest when Johnson stopped to check on Walker’s stalled car.
Draper Detective Jaclyn Moore, who attended police academy with Johnson recalled seeing him light up as he walked into class.
"You could tell that he just wanted to be a police officer," Moore said.
She said Johnson was a committed sergeant who brought joy to his job.
"He would sing this Kermit The Frog song. In Kermit’s voice. In uniform. In public," Moore said. "It was so embarrassing."
Rather than stoic, patriotic music, American Idol contestant Kenz Hall sang "Fields of Gold" by Sting, and a children’s choir from the Johnsons’ church performed the sergeant’s beloved Kermit song, "Rainbow Connection."
Johnson’s father, Randy Johnson, thanked Draper residents for their condolences and outreach since his son’s death.
"He left something for each of us to take into our lives," Randy Johnson said. "We had an opportunity as a community to decide who we are."
The criminal proceedings stemming from Johnson’s death ended in July when Walker pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Meanwhile, Johnson was honored on memorials in Utah and Washington, D.C., and Draper Mayor Troy Walker — no relation to the shooter — proclaimed Sept. 1 to be an official day of remembrance for Johnson.
Draper police Chief Bryan Roberts choked back tears as a helicopter flew over the ceremony.
"Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday, other times it feels like a lifetime ago," Roberts said.
Shante Johnson recalled watching her childhood sweetheart become a husband, a police officer and a father pitching a tent in the backyard to camp out with his son Benson, now 7.
"Derek loved his little boy and and he loved me, and we will miss you Derek, forever and always," she said.
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