Breaking News
More () »

Mother buys billboard space in Hilltop to call attention to son’s unsolved murder

James Johnson was fatally shot more than two years ago at a a Sunoco gas station.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Across the street from a Sunoco gas station on Sullivant Avenue, obscured behind a plastic cover on a utility pole, is the face of a murdered man.

His name is James Johnson. He was fatally shot more than two years ago at the gas station.

The Columbus Division of Police released a grainy surveillance photo showing a maroon and gold minivan and a vague description of suspects. Since then, there have been no arrests.

10 Investigates has learned authorities expect to release more photos in the near future.

In the meantime, James’ mother, Brenda Johnson, has released a photo of her own.

She’s rented out billboard space near the intersection of Hague and Sullivant Avenue with a photo of her son and a number for those with information to call.

“I won’t give up. He deserves some answers and some justice,” Brenda Johnson said. “He was my baby. And I won’t forget and I am not going to let anyone else forget.”

10 Investigates found Johnson’s death fits into a larger theme with unsolved killings in Columbus.

As part of our investigation, we mapped every homicide in Columbus between 2017 and 2022. What we found were areas of the city we called “dead zones” - areas where unsolved killings were clustered together.

As part of our reporting, we interviewed several families of victims and Columbus police to focus on what may driving this occurrence.

What emerged was a common theme – that people were unwilling – or afraid – to come forward with information because they either feared reprisal or that providing information to police runs counter to the code of the streets – so-called “no snitching” phenomena.

To watch our previous investigation, click here.

Brenda thinks people know who killed her son but won’t come forward.

“I think they are scared, or they are cowards. They are scared of what can happen to them. What they need to think about is what if it was their loved one. What if it was their son or their dad. Their fiancé. Someone just needs to step up.”

The loss of James is tough for Brenda, his fiancé Raven Choulat and his children.

“Children are supposed to be happy and full of joy and that was stolen from them,” Choulat said.

Brenda Johnson is hoping that the billboard will jar people to come forward.

Before You Leave, Check This Out