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Family of fallen officer says 'thank you' with Festival of Trees entry


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SANDY — It's been three months since Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson was shot and killed on the job. In that time the community has rallied to support his family, and they're ready to show their gratitude in a unique way — at the 2013 Festival of Trees.

From a young age, Laura Johnson said her son knew exactly what he wanted.

"When Derek was in fifth grade he wrote an autobiography, and he titled it, ‘When I grow up I want to be a police officer,'" Laura said.

Like any mother would, Laura expressed concern.

"He told me, ‘Mom, you don't need to worry. I'll be safe,'" she said.

Then on Sept. 1, a mother's worst nightmare became reality: Derek was gunned down when he stopped to investigate a suspicious vehicle.

"Our community has been such a great support through the tragedy of Derek's death," Laura said.

That's why she and her lifelong friends, Gaylene Johnson and DaNell Glade, decided to honor Derek by giving back to the community he loved protecting. They created a Christmas tree in Derek's honor, which they've entered into the 2013 Festival of Trees.


We want everyone to know how great (Derek) was and what a great person he was for his community.

–Laura Johnson, Sgt. Derek Johnson's mother


The annual festival displays and auctions off hundreds of Christmas trees. All the proceeds go to patients in need at Primary Children's Medical Center.

"We want everyone to know how great (Derek) was and what a great person he was for his community," Laura said.

For Derek's tree, the women decorated police handcuffs, wrapped ornaments with the ribbons they wore to Derek's funeral, and hand-wired miniature police cars to light up like the real ones.

As festival-goers look closely at the tree, they'll also see coins on the ornaments. They're Challenge Coins, sent to the Johnson family from police, fire and military personnel from all over the world.

"Each department has their own coin, so it's a symbolism of brotherhood," Laura said.

The Challenge Coins on the tree are like the ones that Derek's son, Bensen, received from the officers who paid respects at his father's funeral.

"I think whoever is the recipient of the tree and the coins is going to immediately be a member of the police family," said Shante Johnson, Derek's widow. "I hope they take a lot of pride in it."

The decorations on the tree aren't the only thing that will catch people's attention. Underneath the tree sits a dream Power Wheels cruiser any boy would love, and — in honor of Bensen — hundreds of Legos. Shante said playing Legos was something Bensen and Derek loved to do together.

For those who would like to see Sgt. Johnson's tree, and possibly bid on it, it will be on display at the South Towne Expo Center Dec. 4 through Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, visit www.festivaloftrees.utah.org.

Email: bwalker@ksl.com

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Brooke Walker

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