On Friday, September 6, 2013 I had the opportunity to go to an event I will never forget. I attended Sgt. Derek Johnson’s funeral.
On Sunday, September 1, 2013, Sgt Derek Johnson, of the Draper, Utah Police Dept was shot and killed while on duty.
The event of him being shot hits close to home. Why? Because I date an officer. Rob is a correctional officer at the jail. He is debating going to the road. You just have a whole new respect for law enforcement when you date them. Also, it hits close to home because 1 month ago, Rob and I participated in a charity ride for Fallen Officers. Rob started the charity ride 7 years ago.
Thursday night Rob and I went to the viewing of Sgt Johnson. It was held at the Maverik Center because of how many people would be there. We had to wait in line for about 30-45 minutes and then we were able to pay our respects to Sgt Johnson. I have a HUGE fear of death, so being able to stand next to the casket and see Sgt Johnson and not have a total melt down, was HUGE for me. At the viewing we saw Sgt Johnson’s little boy, Bensen, who is 6 years old. It was super precious because he was wearing his dad’s badge and ribbons. It broke my heart. Because Bensen is so young, I don’t think, well I know, he doesn’t quite realize how much he’s going to miss with his dad. He realizes his dad has passed away, but he doesn’t realize how long it’s going to be until he can see him again. We got to talk to Sgt Johnson’s aunt at the viewing as well (we saw her at the roadside memorial where his car crashed).
I was able to get the time off work for the funeral on Friday so I could go with Rob. We had to be to the Sherriff’s office building at 9:00 a.m. for a briefing on how everything would be handled and how the Sherriff’s Office and County would be represented. When we got to the Sherriff’s office, we found out we would be riding with another police officer in his police car so we could participate in the motorcade to the cemetery.
We made it to the Maverik Center where the funeral was being held and it was very humbling to see everyone in uniform there. I saw folks come from Cincinnati, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and I’m sure many other states, to show their respect to Sgt Johnson.
I will never forget. As soon as the bagpipes started playing to lead the casket in to the main room, every officer stood up and was at attention and salute.
There were quite a few speakers at the funeral. I really enjoyed hearing from Derek’s brother, sister, dad and co-workers the most. The Governor of Utah spoke as well as a representative from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When his relatives and his co-worker spoke, I honestly felt like I knew Derek. I felt like he was a friend of mine.
When the service was over, we went outside and Rob and I had to part ways for a few minutes. Why? Because everyone in uniform had to form a tunnel and stand at attention and salute as the casket was carried out and put in the hearse. There were officers, the folks from Life Flight and folks from all the different fire departments as well.
Then started the motorcade to the cemetery. He was buried in Sandy, UT, but they drove him through Draper, UT one last time. As we were in the motorcade, even when we were on the freeway, people had pulled off to the side of the road and got out of their cars to pay respect.
As we got off the freeway at 12300 South, the streets were lined with flags and people. I can’t get over how many people I saw. They all had American flags and were waving them. Some had signs that said “Thank you for your service Sgt Johnson”, some signs just said “Thank you”. It was just an amazing experience.
We had to walk a ways to get to the cemetery (not fun to do in heels). But once we got to the cemetery, we had to wait a little bit for the rest of the motorcade to arrive. It took about 30-45 minutes. Then, once again, all the officers saluted him and stood at attention as the casket was taken out of the hearse and taken to the burial spot.
I wish I could have seen and heard more at the services at the grave. We heard the dedication of the grave by a family member, but I wish I could have seen the presenting of the flag to the family. They had the gun salute and last thing they had was his last call over the radio, state wide. That’s what got to me. What an amazing thing to hear. I was speechless. I’ll admit, I cried. If you search YouTube hard enough, you can hear the recording of his last call. I believe it’s on my Facebook page as well.
Before we left to head back to the car, we stopped and gave Bensen a little squeeze on his shoulder. We wanted to give him a high-5, but there were so many people, we didn’t have a chance. I did hear someone say to Bensen though “You know Bensen, you had a pretty amazing dad.” Bensen’s response: “Yeah, I know.”
It just kills me that because someone was careless and has now respect for life, this little boy is going to be without a father. How do you explain to a 6 year old that someone was careless and shot your daddy and your daddy isn’t coming home? It just breaks my heart.
I will never forget the experience of going to this funeral. I would like to hope I don’t have to go to another one, but sadly, I’m sure I will.
God bless Sgt Derek Johnson and his family. Thank you for your service Derek. You will never be forgotten.