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One-year-old Juwan Johnson Jr. holds a photo of his late father Sgt. Juwan Johnson. Johnson Jr. was born Dec. 1, 2005, almost five months after his father was killed in an alleged gang inititation "jumping in" ceremony in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
One-year-old Juwan Johnson Jr. holds a photo of his late father Sgt. Juwan Johnson. Johnson Jr. was born Dec. 1, 2005, almost five months after his father was killed in an alleged gang inititation "jumping in" ceremony in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (Steve Mraz / S&S)
One-year-old Juwan Johnson Jr. holds a photo of his late father Sgt. Juwan Johnson. Johnson Jr. was born Dec. 1, 2005, almost five months after his father was killed in an alleged gang inititation "jumping in" ceremony in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
One-year-old Juwan Johnson Jr. holds a photo of his late father Sgt. Juwan Johnson. Johnson Jr. was born Dec. 1, 2005, almost five months after his father was killed in an alleged gang inititation "jumping in" ceremony in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (Steve Mraz / S&S)
Stephanie Cockrell embraces her grandson Juwan Johnson Jr. while Johnson Jr.'s mother Kenika Johnson holds a photo of her late husband.
Stephanie Cockrell embraces her grandson Juwan Johnson Jr. while Johnson Jr.'s mother Kenika Johnson holds a photo of her late husband. (Steve Mraz / S&S)
Spc. Bobby Morrissette leaves the staff judge advocate's building on Kleber Casern in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where his Article 32 hearing took place on Dec. 6. Morrissette is the first of two soldiers charged with murdering Sgt. Johnson.
Spc. Bobby Morrissette leaves the staff judge advocate's building on Kleber Casern in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where his Article 32 hearing took place on Dec. 6. Morrissette is the first of two soldiers charged with murdering Sgt. Johnson. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

BALTIMORE — Inside a tidy home in a rough city in an even rougher neighborhood, Juwan Johnson Jr. clutches the photo of a man he will never meet but will come to know as his father: Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

The 25-year-old Juwan Johnson was pummeled July 3, 2005, in an alleged gang initiation ceremony and found dead in his Kaiserslautern, Germany, barracks room the next day.

For now, the 1-year-old child — showered with love from his widowed mother and grieving grandmother — is content with giggling, dancing and being cute.

But the truth waits for the day Juwan Jr. can comprehend and cope with his father’s slaying.

Kenika Johnson, Juwan’s 25-year-old wife, says “[Juwan Jr.] has a lot of love. When things go on in school sports, he might have a problem with that. I’ll just be there carrying him on.”

Final wordsSome of the last words Juwan Johnson spoke to his wife were to tell her he would be “all right.”

A few hours later, Juwan Johnson would be found dead in his room on Kleber Kaserne.

Juwan Johnson, a soldier in the 66th Transportation Company, called Kenika Johnson around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Central European Time on July 4, 2005. Kenika Johnson said she is sure of the time because she was wearing a watch set to the time in Germany.

Just before Christmas 2006 in the Baltimore home of her mother-in-law, Stephanie Cockrell, Kenika Johnson recalled her final conversation with her husband that July morning.

Juwan Johnson told his wife he would call her back and that he was not feeling well, Kenika Johnson said.

“I was like, ‘You sure you OK?’” she said. “He was like, ‘I’ll be all right.’”

The conversation is the last Kenika Johnson, pregnant with the couple’s first child, would have with her husband. Kenika Johnson gave birth on Dec. 1, 2005.

Army investigators determined that Juwan Johnson died after being beaten during a “jumping in” — an initiation ceremony for the Gangster Disciples. Eight servicemembers have been identified as suspects in Juwan Johnson’s murder. To date, two soldiers — Spc. Bobby Morrissette and Pfc. Latisha Ellis — have been charged with murder in the 18-month investigation.

Kenika Johnson met Morrissette and his wife and child when she lived in the Kaiserslautern area.

“My whole thing is, they get charged or whatever happens to them, it still doesn’t bring my husband back,” she said. “It really doesn’t make me feel any better, to tell you the truth. It just makes me hurt to see their faces, just to know that I’ve been around these guys or I’ve been around these people and their families. It’s just sad. It’s just crazy.”

LifeJuwan’s mother, Stephanie Cockrell, raised her son to avoid the life she had succumbed to in Baltimore. A single mother, she had been addicted to drugs and spent time in prison. But Cockrell turned her life around, earned a bachelor’s degree and landed a job as an addiction specialist for a Baltimore hospital.

The one time Juwan Johnson got into legal trouble as a youth, Cockrell made him sign a contract. The contract gave Juwan Johnson a curfew, allowed Cockrell to go to her son’s school to check his grades and forced him to volunteer at a community kitchen.

“I said, ‘We won’t be one of those,’ and I said it, ‘niggers on the corner selling drugs,’” Cockrell said. “We will not be part of the problem that makes more people in our community addicts.”

Kenika Johnson and Cockrell do not believe that Juwan Johnson would join a gang. He never said anything about joining a gang, Kenika Johnson said.

“It doesn’t add up,” said Kenika Johnson, who still wears her wedding ring. “He would tell me, ‘I’ve got a family now. I can’t make any mistakes.’ He had no room in his life for a gang.”

Cockrell recalled a story from when Juwan Johnson was once home in Baltimore on military leave.

“I told him, ‘I want you to go down and see the neighborhood you left, and I can guarantee you that the same guys you left on the corner are still there. What you’ve had an opportunity to do is see that there’s a world bigger than that corner,’” she said. “He went and did that. He came home and said, ‘You’re right. I don’t want to come back to this.’ I’m telling you about the evolution of this young man. It makes no sense that he would join a gang.”

Cockrell hopes her son’s death is not in vain and can prevent similar incidences in the future.

“Whatever happens as a result of this, all those involved should be held liable,” she said. “Every one of them knew how bad they beat him, and they did not take him to the hospital. At that point, it becomes murder.”

The Sgt. Juwan Johnson Case

The victimName:Sgt. Juwan JohnsonAge:25Unit:66th Transportation CompanyJohnson was found dead in his barracks room on Kaiserslautern’s Kleber Kaserne on July 4, 2005, after being beaten in an apparent gang-initiation ceremony. Johnson was to have left the Army a few weeks after he was killed.

Soldiers chargedName:Spc. Bobby MorrissetteAge:24Unit:Formerly 66th Transportation Company; now 1st Cargo Transfer Company, 29th Support Group

Morrissette, believed to be a member of the Gangster Disciples, was charged Oct. 18, 2006, with murdering Johnson. An Article 32 hearing took place in early December for Morrissette.A recommendation on whether the case will proceed to a court-martial is coming within weeks, a spokesman said.

Name:Pfc. Latisha EllisAge:22Unit:Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 21st Theater Support Command

Ellis is the second soldier to be charged with murder in the Johnson investigation. An Article 32 hearing for Ellis is scheduled for Tuesday at a location that is yet to be determined.

To date, no other troops have been charged although investigators initially identified eight servicemembers as suspects in the death.

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