CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — “Hero, daughter, sister, friend, lover of animals.” These are all words used to describe Cassie Johnson, a Charleston police officer shot in the line of duty on Dec. 1, 2020.
Sadly, Johnson lost her life just a couple days later on Dec. 3, 2020, at the age of 28. She had served for the Charleston Police Department for almost two years.
Friends and family will tell you that Cassie Johnson was a hero, a fighter, and a remarkable woman.
Johnson was the first woman officer sworn in by Charleston’s first female mayor, Amy Shuler Goodwin. Protecting and serving the community was one of Johnson’s dreams.
“It feels good to finally accomplish a dream I’ve had for a long time, Johnson said in January 2019 after she was sworn in.
Long before Johnson was shot on Garrison Avenue, it was a street she frequently patrolled, city officials said. She was dedicated to serving Charleston, as she grew up there herself and her family still lives there.
Johnson prided herself in being a woman in the force. She added diversity to the department, ultimately helping officers better serve the community. She hoped to inspire other girls and women to follow their dreams of pursuing a law enforcement career.
“Follow your dreams. Stay strong. You can do it,” she said in 2019.
Johnson’s colleagues never doubted her for a second either. “Because it’s Cassie,” was just the kind of trust that former CPD Chief Opie Smith, Jr., and many others had in Johnson. She was a shining light for everyone around her, always making them smile.
“She’s always in the background lifting us up,” former Chief Smith said after Johnson’s swearing-in. “That’s just the type of person she is. I see her motivation and her drive and what she wants to do. I think that’s going to carry over into law enforcement.”
And when she was in the hospital, Johnson’s colleagues said she was still clinging to life as much as she could. “She is still fighting, but her body is unable to sustain life by itself,” CPD Chief Tyke Hunt said in December 2020 following the shooting.
Johnson was taken off life support, but her heroics did not just stop there — her organs were donated. One of Cassie’s recipients said she was able to go to her daughter’s wedding because of the organ donation, and a man in Kentucky received Cassie’s heart.
Daughter, sister & friend to all
Johnson’s mother Sheryl was on the phone with her daughter when Cassie said she had to go because she was being dispatched for a call. It was a parking complaint.
That conversation would be the last between Sheryl and her daughter.
Sheryl knew Cassie was special before she even entered this world.
When Sheryl was pregnant with Cassie, she was exposed to a virus that put her at risk. Sheryl’s doctor recommended she have an abortion, but something told her not to. Her daughter would have been 30 years old in September 2022.
When sharing memories of Cassie, Sheryl beams with pride: “From the time she was born, that kid was entertaining,” Sheryl said. “She loved her job and being her own person.”
For Sheryl and Cassie’s sister Chelsea, the years after the shooting have been a testimony to just how many people she helped. For Johnson, her acts of kindness were naturally just a part of her job.
“It’s like these people tell us these things, and it’s like we wonder why she didn’t tell us all that, but it was all just in the day’s work,” Sheryl said.
One of those acts of kindness included helping a young woman who was going through a hard breakup.
Johnson noticed the woman was driving too slow on the interstate, and she was worried something was wrong. Johnson pulled the driver over, but when she got to the window, she realized the woman was upset. She stood and talked with the woman and tried to comfort her.
“I’ve always known she was a good person and a loving person, but just to hear other people talk about her and how many people she touched and reached out to and did things for is crazy,” Johnson’s sister Chelsea said in an interview. “The number of people who came out and told us she helped me do this, she helped me do that, and she doesn’t tell you about that. She just does it because it was what she’s supposed to do.”
A hero to both humans and animals
Long before Johnson started protecting human lives, she was a protector of animals. She served as a humane officer in Charleston prior to becoming a police officer.
She rescued dogs and cats off the streets, taking them to the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association, and even bringing some of them into her own home. Today, Johnson’s family carries on her legacy, always keeping an eye on local missing pet pages and trying to rescue wandering dogs and cats.
In December 2021, Johnson’s family helped rescue a dog that was lost in the Garrison Avenue area. The dog was found on December 2, 2021, the day between the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting and Johnson’s death. Coincidentally, the dog had one eye, just like one of Johnson’s previous rescue dogs. Johnson’s mother Sheryl told 13 News helping reunite the dog with its owner was just the type of thing Cassie would have done. It was the sign Sheryl had been looking for all week from her daughter.
Johnson’s best friend from the police academy, Detective Erin Simon, took in one of Cassie’s rescue dogs after her death. Rescue dog Tanner is just another one of the many creatures and people Johnson swore to protect.
Today, visitors to the dog park in Cato Park off Edgewood Drive are met with a photo of two smiling faces: Cassie Johnson and her dog Emma (pictured above). A sign displayed there explains that the dog park, “Emma’s Place,” was named in honor of Johnson’s chocolate lab.
On Thursday, the Charleston Police Department posted on their Facebook page in honor of Johnson: “WE WILL NEVER FORGET. RESPECT. HONOR. REMEMBER.”
CPD said they will hold a customary radio silence in honor of Johnson on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at 1:46 p.m., followed by a brief statement from Metro 911.
Johnson’s badge number was 146.