Demetrius “Ali” Johnson’s family moved to metro Atlanta from New York City in the early 2000s after a violent robbery left him with a traumatic brain injury.
To cope, the 44-year-old walked a lot. He would spend his days roaming the streets of Jonesboro, singing and dancing and visiting with friends he met, his mother Claudia Barrett told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But it was on one of those carefree walks that he was again met with violence. This time, he did not survive.
Clayton County police believe Johnson was the first victim in a series of knife attacks late at night Aug. 30, but details about what exactly happened to him are not clear. His body was not discovered until six hours later.
At the time of the New York attack, Johnson was 21 years old and had been walking then, too, when he was robbed of his jewelry and wallet and beaten with a pipe so badly he had to be placed into a medically induced coma for three weeks, his mother said. The family stayed in the city for a few years and tried to make things work, but “New York was not the place,” Barrett said.
So in 2008, they moved to the Jonesboro area for a fresh start.
But Johnson’s mental health continued to deteriorate. He enrolled in programs that were supposed to help, but they didn’t work for him, Barrett said. He started getting bored being stuck at home and unable to work a regular job, she said.
So he started walking as a way “to cope with his life because he wasn’t happy,” Barrett said. “He knew he was damaged.”
Eventually, Barrett and Johnson’s daughter, Ellisa, started learning the areas where he’d hang out and meet with friends. He was never too far from home, and whenever he was ready at the end of the day, they’d pick him up and take him home for the night. That was their routine.
Credit: Family contributed photo
Credit: Family contributed photo
Sometimes Johnson would let them know he wanted to stay out longer, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to be gone for a few days. So when they didn’t hear from him for a couple of days late last month, it wasn’t initially too concerning.
But by the fourth day of silence, they knew something was wrong. Still, they didn’t expect the worst.
It was the Sunday before Labor Day and they were going to cook out, so Barrett and Ellisa Johnson went looking for him. That’s when they found some of his friends, who said he’d been stabbed to death.
Their lives were upended by the news, and they desperately wished they’d known sooner. Police later told them they couldn’t find Johnson’s family because he didn’t have a form of identification when he was discovered, so investigators believed he was homeless.
“It’s really hard, especially with the horrific way he passed,” Ellisa Johnson said. “What makes it harder (is) we just keep thinking about how much pain he was possibly in and knowing that his last thoughts were probably worrying for us.”
Lloyd Lee Brown, 32, was taken into custody the same night as the attacks after multiple victims called 911 to report him throwing a two-by-four at them and stabbing at least one other man multiple times. He was still holding a knife and still had blood on his arms when police arrested him. He faces multiple charges, including malice murder and five counts of aggravated assault.
“In my mind, it’s like it’s not real. I’m in a dream, and I cry and ask, ‘Why, why, why, why, why?’ How can another human being do this to others?” Barrett said. “Every night and every day, from the time I wake up, I feel like I’m living an out-of-body experience. And it’s like everything’s going in slow motion.”
She has to walk through her son’s bedroom to get to the laundry room, and each time she is reminded of her daily ritual of leaving out fresh, clean clothes for him to change into when he got home. The last batch is still there.
“Everything is the same in that room,” she said with a subdued grief. “I try not to even look, but I have to see to do the laundry. All I can do is just grab my son’s clothes and hold them and cry and just say, ‘Sorry.’ You know, I wish — I wish I could have been there to save my son. What was he thinking at the time? He got hurt, and now to hear this information of what this man did is horrific. It’s no words for that. You know, there’s no words for that.”