Family, friends gather to remember slain student

People gather on West Venango Street Thursday night to remember Stephen Johnson.

Friends and family of Stephen Johnson gathered Thursday night in the Tioga section of the city for a vigil to remember the young man whose bright future was cut short. Johnson, 23, was shot to death after an apparent argument on the 1700 block of West Venango Street on New Year’s Day.

Johnson was a senior marketing major and MIS minor in the Fox School of Business who expected to graduate in May and pursue a career with the Navy, family said.

The small gathering huddled together outside of Johnson’s former home and site of the shooting on the West Venango Street and shared stories, prayers and memories of the 23-year-old who family said worked hard, cared for his family and lit up a room with his smile.

“Stephen Kyree Johnson was not a thug. He was not a drug dealer. He was a 23-year-old Fox School student about to graduate Temple with his bachelor’s degree,” said Johnson’s cousin, Movita Johnson-Harrell. “He was smart, he was funny, and he didn’t deserve to die. He did not deserve to die.”

Anti-violence groups including Heeding God’s Call, the CHARLES Foundation and Men United for a Better Philadelphia joined in the vigil to comfort Johnson’s family and support their plea for change in the city’s violent gun culture.

“Where’s the neighborhood? Where it happened? Where are the mothers and fathers of this neighborhood?” said Denine Johnson, Stephen’s mother, addressing the vigil. “I lost my only child. My only child. And another mother lost her son to the system…I thank y’all for coming out, but when is it going to stop?”

Johnson-Harrell, who heads the CHARLES Foundation in honor of her own son, Charles Johnson, who was shot and killed in Germantown in a case of mistaken identity in 2011, said that family members hope to eventually create an organization in Stephen’s honor.

Lawrence Jeffries, 22, of Glenside, Pa., is charged with murder and related offenses in connection with the incident that left Johnson dead and two others shot. Two other 22-year-old men were shot during the incident, one in the foot and the other in the chest and foot.  A fourth victim sustained fractures to both of her feet after jumping from the second floor window to avoid the gunfire, police said.

Jeffries’ preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 12.

Ali Watkins can be reached at 

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