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Unsolved murder prompts mother to saturate Hilltop with son’s image

Brenda Johnson scattered posters of her son in the Hilltop area hoping someone will come forward with information about who killed him last year.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Brenda Johnson is unafraid of being seen or heard.

“I don’t want my son forgotten. And I want someone to grow a heart, a conscious, something…” she said standing near the parking lot of the United Dairy Farmers gas station where her son James collapsed last October.

And she wants you to see her son. Like – really see him.

This week, Brenda saturated the Hilltop area with posters with the image of her son, James Johnson.

On October 20, 2020 - moments before James arrived at the UDF gas station - James had been shot about half a mile down the road at a Sunoco gas station. He drove himself to the UDF where he collapsed.

His murder hasn’t been solved.

That doesn’t mean someone out there doesn’t know something.

Brenda said she thinks it’s quite the opposite – that people know who gunned down James but won’t come forward to authorities.

The Columbus Division of Police initially said they were looking for two male suspects and possibly a female driver leaving the Sunoco gas station in a two-tone mini-van. They also released a surveillance image but there have been no arrests.

Last month, James Johnson’s murder was one of several murders featured in a 10 Investigates’ report that highlighted problems plaguing police in solving murders in the city.

Our investigation found a pervasive culture of “no snitching” and a reluctance to cooperate with police is creating “dead zones” – geographic areas of the city where police have historically had a hard time making arrests.

James Johnson’s murder happened in one of these “dead zones.” His murder is clustered among at least a half dozen other killings in the Hilltop – all unsolved.

His killing is one of more than 300 unsolved killings that 10 Investigates mapped across Columbus.

Brenda Johnson is hoping by placing posters of James in the Hilltop, Whitehall and other areas of the city – people might be able to break the silence and come forward with information that might help police make an arrest. Brenda told 10 Investigates that it would help her and James’ children – who have been struggling emotionally with his death.

“It’s hard. They worry about me hanging these signs thinking I’m going to get killed like their daddy did,” she said. “It’s awful. I need justice for them. These babies need justice for him. There needs to be an end to this madness.”

Brenda is hoping by placing James’ posters across the Hilltop and other parts of Columbus, that it will spur someone to come forward.

“I am on my own mission. Whether it helps or not at least I know I am not just sitting there and grieving. I am actually out here trying to go out here and do something,” she said.

If you have information on this murder case or others, you can call Crimestoppers at 614-461-8477. You can also call the homicide unit of the Columbus Division of Police at 614-645-4746.

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