Mom prays George County RB "didn't kill himself"

GEORGE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A star football player at George County High School is dead. Billey Joe Johnson, Junior died early Monday morning from a single gunshot he suffered during a routine traffic stop. Investigators are looking at the possibility that the fatal gunshot came from Johnson's own shotgun.

The 5:40 a.m. traffic stop seemed routine. A George County sheriff's deputy pulled over Johnson because the 17 year old allegedly ran a stop sign. According to George County's sheriff, Johnson and the deputy both got out of their vehicles. The deputy took Johnson's license and walked back to his patrol car. What happened next has everybody baffled and shocked.

"I just want to see my baby," Annette Johnson said. She was one of about 100 people standing nearly 200 yards from the spot where her son was shot.

The despondent mom and a stunned dad waited more than half a day to hear something about the shooting death. "I don't know what's going on. I just want to get over there so I can see my son," Mr. Johnson said.

At about 1:30, members of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, and an investigator with the district attorney's office met with the family.

George County authorities say Billey Joe Johnson, Junior died from a pre-dawn gunshot. However, Sheriff Garry Welford said, "I can't tell if Mr. Johnson shot himself or if the gun accidentally discharged."

Eight hours after the shooting, the teen's body was still at the scene, behind a blue tarp on Highway 26. "That's my little brother," Eddie Johnson said. "And they won't let us see him."

If you follow high school football, you know the name Billey Joe Johnson. His coach was Al Jones. "Billey Joe has to be one of the most gifted running backs I've ever coached, as for sheer athletic ability," he said. Johnson was a rare talent -- so good, he started for George County as a freshman. He had scholarship offers from universities including Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Oregon, according to Scout, a national recruiting service. In his junior season, he rushed for more than 1500 yards, and 24 touchdowns -- stats that earned him all region honors. The lunch to accept that award was supposed to be Monday afternoon. "He text me last night, wanting to know what to wear, and all of a sudden this morning, that's irrelevant," said Jones.

At 5:40 Monday morning, Johnson got pulled over by a George County deputy for a traffic violation. While that deputy was radioing in license information, the sheriff says the deputy heard a gunshot. And then he noticed the 17 year old football player lying on the ground next to his truck.

Because Coach Jones is so close to the teen, he rushed to the scene of the shooting. "It wasn't very pretty," he said. "I mean just to see a kid that had a whole future in front of him all of a sudden it was no longer. It was a sad situation."

It was also an uncomfortable situation for Sheriff Welford. "There's a George County deputy involved in the respect that the deputy stopped the gentleman, was present when the shooting happened," he said. "And because I had an officer there, the sheriff's department is not investigating this. We've called the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation."

The only facts Sheriff Welford would confirm was that the victim was lying on the ground by the driver's side door of the vehicle he was driving. And a shotgun was lying on the victim. "I don't know if it's Billey Joe's gun, or whose gun," Sheriff Welford said. When asked if it was a gun from anybody in his department, the sheriff said, "Negative it was not."

George County High School had counselors available for students, to help them cope with the loss of Billey Joe Johnson, Junior. The school's principal is Stuart Hurley. "Just like every decision you make, you start with what's best for the students," he said. "So you start, you scrap all your plans that you have for that day, and you start trying to meet the needs of everybody in the school."

The Mississippi Department of Education and neighboring school districts have offered to help counsel students, said Barbara Massey, George County's superintendent. "What a joy it was to watch him play football," she said. "Our sympathies go out to the family of this talented, talented young man."