A Georgia community is devasted over the tragic loss of a suburban Atlanta man who was fatally shot days before Christmas in front of a popular bar where he worked.
The young man’s mother says she is heartbroken by his death as police identify and hold a suspect in custody.
Friends and co-workers of 39-year-old Jerome Johnson of Lawrenceville, Georgia, created a memorial at his job, the Will Henry’s Tavern, where he was killed on Dec. 19. Many described him as a beloved father figure who always looked out for others.
In an incident described as road rage by the Gwinnett County Police Department, the GCPD says Johnson was shot by Jonnathan Bladimir Hernandez of Lilburn, Georgia, who was riding his bike near the 30-year-old establishment in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Hernandez and Johnson got into an altercation, prompting the 27-year-old to pull out his firearm and shoot the Black man before fleeing the scene, according to police. Johnson, the bar’s nighttime manager, was sitting inside his SUV when the bullet struck him.
“At some point, they made contact in the parking lot and an argument broke out from that point, which led to the shooting,” a police spokesperson told 11 Alive News.
Johnson was immediately rushed to a local hospital by Gwinnett Fire Rescue, where he died as a result of his injuries.
Police say they detained and took into custody the suspected shooter after receiving a suspicious person call later in the evening that matched Hernandez’s description.
The caller gave law enforcement the man’s location, and they responded in full force, bringing out patrol cars, a K-9 unit, and a helicopter. Hernandez surrendered to the police with no incident, a report states.
Records show on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 20, authorities charged Hernandez with felony murder and aggravated assault.
Johnson’s employers released a statement on social media about his death, saying the staff is “deeply saddened.”
Management wrote on Facebook, “We at Will Henry’s are deeply saddened by the passing of Jerome. He was part of our family. A person that meant a great deal to a lot of people. He was kind and always looked out for everyone. He will be missed more than words can say. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his parents and family.”
The Stone Mountain bar had just hosted its annual employee holiday party, where Johnson brought his mother and father as his guests, according to his co-worker Keri Kush. Now, the two are preparing to bury their son, asking members of the community and beyond to help them with the unexpected funeral expenses.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by Laicindia Curtis, his mother, who wrote, “I’m reaching out to family and friends to help support my son Jerome’s homecoming. This is such a tragedy for my family to lose my only son.”
The goal of the crowdfunding campaign is $25,000 and the family, with a little over 100 donations, has raised over $8,000.
Kush told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Johnson was like a father to the young people who worked with him, saying, “He watched us. He kept us safe, and it’s so senseless for that to happen.”
“He was a great guy, and he did not deserve that, and we will miss him terribly,” Kush added.
Johnson’s daytime managerial counterpart, John “AB” Hall said, “It’s been a very tough time for the whole Will Henry’s family.”
The manager added Johnson’s death was a “senseless thing happening to this community.”
Will Henry’s Tavern staff hosted a candlelight vigil and balloon release on Wednesday, Dec. 21, in his memory. However, every day since his untimely demise, customers have been building a memorial of cards, roses, and stuffed bears in his honor. The candles seemed to have been appropriate as friends like AJ said Johnson was “the light of this place at night.”
His co-worker added, “He always checked on you. I mean, even with some of the older women who would come in, he always walked him up to the car.”
Hernandez is currently being held in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.