Vigil held in honor of sophomore Chris Johnson

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photo by Jeannie Williams

After Chris Johnson’s family spoke, the crowd released red balloons. Click below to hear the remarks of Johnson’s mother at the beginning of the vigil.

Jeannie Williams, Editor-in-Chief

From the cookies baked by sophomore Mariah Skidmore to the red balloons donated by Oviedo Pest Control, the vigil held in the memory of sophomore Chris Johnson was community-wide.  The vigil was held Monday, April 17 at 8 p.m. at Round Lake Park and included speeches and testimonies from many of Johnson’s friends and family members.

Johnson was hit and critically injured by a van on Saturday night and died early Sunday morning. Family friends Matthew Greaves, Chasiti Everett, Chris Martini and others came together to organize a candlelight memorial for Johnson’s friends. A flyer made by Everett circled through Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and resulted in hundreds of people coming out.

By 7:30 p.m., a small crowd was already gathered by the tennis courts as classmates, friends and even those who did not know Johnson waited around patiently for instructions on what to do. As it grew darker, more and more people arrived including ASL teacher Kimberley Carten.

photo by Jeannie Williams
Freshman Tamia Smithson

“Somebody in all of my classes was affected by what happened.  I feel like they just need somebody to be there for them and to be able to see a friendly face,” Carten said.

At 8:05, the crowd was ushered over to the white fence at the edge of the parking lot, where Johnson’s family spoke to the crowd about their loss and their gratitude for the community.  After releasing red balloons into the sky, the crowd migrated to the clump of trees that the wreath in honor of Johnson was propped up against.

photo by Jeannie Williams
The memorial will be set up in Round Lake Park until April 22.

As some began to silently add flowers and candles to the memorial, others stepped forward to share stories of Johnson. A few words into the first speaker’s testimony, somebody could be heard asking, “Do you need a mic? I’ve got a mic.”  In a matter of seconds, family and friends’ words were amplified to the group. Freshman Andrew Bennett originally held back from speaking, but with the prompting of his friend, he stepped forward to say a few words about Johnson.  The two sat next to each other in fourth period, and Bennett spoke of his big smile and friendly character.

“I thought that if I didn’t go, that would be me showing disrespect to my friend,” Bennett said.  “I realized that I had something to say, but if I left there and didn’t say it, it would have crushed my heart.”

Jeannie Williams

Attendees continued to speak and add to the memorial late into the night.  As things wound down, some started playing basketball on the other side of the park.  Everyone wore red in honor of Johnson, so the teams were indistinguishable.

“I knew [Johnson] had a lot of friends, and I wanted us to be able to celebrate his life,” Greaves said.  “This community- Hagerty, Oviedo, Winter Springs- is so close.  Everybody knows everybody.  I think we all learned to appreciate everybody just a little bit more.”

The memorial will be up until Saturday, April 21.  Click here to access the GoFundMe for Johnson’s family: https://www.gofundme.com/memory-of-chris

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