Billey Joe Johnson remembered at funeral

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

LUCEDALE (WLOX)-   It's been almost two weeks since high school football star Billey Joe Johnson died from a shotgun wound during a routine traffic stop.  There's been some speculation as the investigation into his death continues.  Saturday, however, his family, friends and fans put aside the hype and came together to give him their last goodbyes.

They gathered at the George County Middle School gym, remembering Johnson as a first class athlete, a role model and a community leader.

"I've seen alot of football in my 20 years of coaching, and he's made some of the greatest runs I've witnessed," said George County High School football coach Al Jones.  He said Johnson began playing varsity football his first year in high school, and already had several scholarships to play in college.

The ceremony began with these words.  "In loving memory of the best running back in the nation. BJ. Billey Joe Johnson, Jr. Sunrise April the 25th, 1991. Sunset December the 8th, 2008."

The large crowd today was proof that his memory will last forever in the hearts of many.

"He touched so many lives. The gym was full. People didn't even have a seat, " said his second cousins Katie Martin and Alma Cola.  "He was such a sweet person. He loved everybody."

Cola adds that her son was one of the many young people in George County who looked up to Johnson as a role model.

"My son wanted to be just like him," she said.  "That's all he talked about was just getting with his cousin Billey Joe and being like him."

The George County Rebels wore their football jerseys in memory of their star running back, and some of them opened up about how the team is doing since Johnson's death.

"We all loved him. We were all teammates with him. He was our brother," said Kevin Dueitt, a junior.  "And now he's gone and it's hard. Football team's taking it really hard."

"It's real hard for everybody," said senior Ethan Eubanks.  "We've never really lost anybody like this."

Jones said he was proud of how the team was handling the loss.

"I've been proud of our players. They've handled it well, they've expressed their grief in different ways, along with the student body," Jones said.  "And I've been proud to be part of George County High School."

Now it's time for this devastated community to help the Johnson family cope with their loss.

"It's such a bad time of the year for something like this to happen, around Christmas, and mostly we are focusing on just keeping them comfortable, and not asking so many questions," said Rev. Rondel St. Clair.

"They are in so much pain right now. They are just grieving so bad," said Cola of the Johnson family.  "And I can't begin to tell you how much pain they're in."

It seemed hard for anyone there to name just one fond memory of Johnson.

"There are so many 'best' memories of Billey Joe, because he was a good kid," St. Clair said.  "Great young man. We need more of them."

The investigation into his death continues.  The NAACP announced shortly after the funeral that Johnson's body would not be buried immediately.  The organization is arranging for a pathologist to view the body as soon as possible.