Former Edgewood Middle School teacher Wendy Allen had lunch with Khalil Johnson and another former student a few days before the end of this past school year. She took them to McDonald’s, where they joked and laughed, but also had some serious conversations.
“I told Khalil he has to get his stuff together — I don’t want to get a phone call in the middle of the night that says you’re shot, you’re dead,” Allen said.
Johnson responded that he knew it, and that he was trying, she said.
Early Thursday morning, Johnson, 15, was shot and killed near the intersection of Eloise Lane and Brookside Drive in Edgewood, in what police have said was a targeted attack, not a random act of violence.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office’s officials said they were familiar with Johnson prior to Thursday’s shooting. Police are investigating his death as a homicide but said they had no suspects.
Johnson will be remembered during a vigil at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the basketball court on Brookside Drive. It is sponsored by M.O.M.S., Mothers of Murdered Sons (Daughters). Mourners are asked to bring a picture of Khalil, a candle and balloons, which will be released at the end of the vigil.
Allen, who now teaches at Cecil County Public Schools, met Johnson his first day of sixth grade when he walked into her classroom at Edgewood Middle School and they stayed in touch over the last several years.
“He would come to me for help with planning, I would help him with his school work. I picked him up for school a number of days to make sure he got there,” Allen said Friday. “I bought him things he couldn’t get otherwise. I tried to make his life better.”
Allen was devastated when she received a phone call at 3 a.m. Thursday from another former student telling her Johnson had died.
“I did literally drop to my knees and sobbed like I’ve never sobbed in my life,” Allen said. “I would have brought him home and treated him as my own if anything happened to his mom. My family knew him, he literally was part of me.
“He loved his family so much. He didn’t have much, but he would give what he could for anyone.”
Priscilla Bucci also knew Johnson well. His teacher in seventh grade at Edgewood Middle School, Bucci said Johnson was a polite kid, quiet and not disruptive.
“He had a smile … his smile changed his whole countenance,” she said, describing him as big, tall and funny.
Johnson loved to play football and he and his friends would wear their jerseys on Fridays in preparation for their upcoming game.
After seventh grade, Bucci would still see Johnson occasionally and he would always say hello. She didn’t recognize him the first time she saw him in eighth-grade, Bucci she said, because Johnson had cut off his long hair.
Johnson, who lived with his mother, had two older brothers, Allen said.
Only one other time did Allen get as close to a student as she did with Johnson. When that student, Trayvon, died in a car accident, she swore she wouldn’t again.
“But Khalil Johnson came walking into my room, with dreads and an attitude,” said Allen, who quickly formed a bond with Johnson. “There was something about him. We just clicked.”
Allen and Johnson were in regular contact when he was in seventh and eighth grades. When Johnson went a few days without coming to school, Allen was on him, to the extent she would go to his house and bang on the door until he got ready to go.
Allen said she wonders if she could’ve done something more, that Johnson might not have been killed.
“All I see is that beautiful smile that lit up the room,” Allen said. “I just can’t imagine what he was thinking when that happened.”
She’s grateful for that McDonald’s lunch a few weeks ago. “That’s what I want to keep with me, that vision,” Allen said. “I want people to know he wasn’t some bad kid, he just had bad circumstances.”
Bucci said she hopes there’s a resolution to Johnson’s murder.
“So the community comes together for justice for his mom and for his life as well,” she said. “It’s devastating and I know the community is reeling now. I can only imagine. I know they’re supporting one another in the ways that they do.”
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call 911 or Det. M. Berg at 443-409-3302. Those who wish to remain anonymous may report information through the methods listed below. If information provided leads to the arrest and indictment of the individuals responsible for this crime, the tipster may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $2,000.
Tips can be submitted online at www.harfordsheriff.org/wanted, by text messaging “CRIMES" (274637) and beginning the message "MCS," then adding the information; or by calling Harford Crime Solvers at 1-888-540-8477.