Family's optimism gives way to sorrow

Man found dead was drug-free, say mother, girlfriend

October 16, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Corolyn E. Johnson thought her 29-year-old son had finally pulled himself away from the drug culture that had entangled him for more than a decade and netted him almost four years of incarceration.

Chad Everett Johnson's first month out of prison began optimistically - he doted on his 5-year-old daughter, Sierra DeShawn Johnson, and worked nights as a janitor at Howard Community College - but it ended with his death early Saturday.

Howard County police found Chad Johnson's body about 3:10 a.m. on a footpath in Harper's Choice village, roughly a quarter-mile from the Columbia condominium where he had been living with his mother. Police said they had been called to the area to check out reports of shots fired. Johnson had been shot, police said.

"His life seemed to be so much better," Corolyn Johnson said yesterday. She believes her son had stayed drug-free since his release a month ago from the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, but she said she is awaiting the outcome of the police investigation.

As of late yesterday, Howard County police had made no arrests in the case, which they determined was a homicide.

Joanna Gedowski, 25, Chad's longtime girlfriend and Sierra's mother, said he had been clean for years. "He had this routine that he did every day - working, baby-sitting his cousins and picking up his daughter from school," she said yesterday. "I don't see where he would have had time [for drugs]."

After his prison release, Johnson began working for the Maryland Wholesale Food Center in Jessup but switched to a job at HCC because it better fit the bus schedule, Corolyn Johnson said.

But his real passion was drawing, his mother said. "He does beautiful artwork," she said. "He's good with his hands."

Gedowski said he was also a "beautiful poet. He was a good human being with a heart of gold."

Chad Johnson's first arrest was at age 18 in Howard County. In 1990, police spotted Johnson and another man removing packages of crack cocaine from a drain pipe in Columbia. Police found 18 individually wrapped bags of crack and a pipe used to smoke the drug; they said they believed the drain pipe was used to store drugs. Johnson was convicted in the case.

A conviction in 1998 for drug distribution sent him first to Hagerstown and then to Jessup, his mother said. Regardless of where he was, she would visit every Sunday, she said.

While in prison, Chad Johnson went through the General Education Development program to earn a high school diploma and attended classes for parents.

His little girl, said his mother and Gedowski, was his life.

"His world revolved around his daughter - his little angel, he called her," Gedowski said through tears yesterday.

Since his release, he would wait for Sierra to finish kindergarten at Bryant Woods Elementary School each day, hoist her on his shoulders and walk home.

"They were just like two children," Corolyn Johnson said.

She said her granddaughter has not been able to comprehend the death of her father. "It's really going to hit her when he's not in the hallway after school there to pick her up," she said.

Gedowski said she, too, was still processing Chad Johnson's death.

"My mind is so blank," she said. "But I'm not angry at whoever did this, because they're somebody's child, too. I just want to know what happened."

Howard police are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Johnson's death. Anyone with information is asked to call the police tip line at 410-313-2283.

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