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A 'beautiful soul,' Tripp Johnson learned lessons some adults still have to learn, his teacher says

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Tripp Johnson, the 7-year-old who died in a crash on Route 24 earlier this month, was a beautiful spirit who lit up any room or any space he walked in, his teacher said.

“I think his goal was to lift everybody else up around him,” Krystal O’Leary, Tripp’s second-grade teacher at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary, said Monday outside Tripp’s viewing.

“He helped,” O’Leary said. “He looked for situations to help. He would forego his own needs to help others.”

O’Leary was one of many staff members from William Paca/Old Post, including a handful who wore “Penguin Pride” shirts, attending the afternoon viewing at St. Frances de Sales Church in Abingdon. A funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church, followed by burial in Oak Lawn Cemetery in Baltimore.

Tripp was killed March 11 in a 12-car crash on Route 24 in Bel Air which also killed Andrew Klein, president of Klein’s Family Markets. Mr. Klein’s services were March 14.

Tripp’s mother, Megan Fulleylove, was injured in the crash and has been hospitalized at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. She has had several surgeries but was able to come to Monday’s viewing and is also expected at the funeral Tuesday.

Posters covered with pictures of Tripp with his classmates, his parents, his cousins and others were spread throughout the church, along with his lacrosse stick, a helmet and his football jersey.

Every year since he was in pre-K at William Paca/Old Post, Tripp said he wanted to be in “That Lady’s” — O’Leary’s — class, she said.

“Finally ... this year we both got our wish, because I wanted him in my class, too,” she said.

Many students want to help their classmates and teachers, O’Leary said, but in Tripp it was a constant. “And it never wavered,” she said.

Tripp’s classmates miss their friend and his name comes up daily

“They say ‘Tripp would like this’ or ‘Tripp would have liked this game,’” O’Leary said.

She will be singing “On Eagle’s Wings” at Tripp’s funeral Tuesday.

“I want to honor him in any way that I can,” she said. “He was somebody that taught me a lot. When a student frustrated me, I thought about how he would help instead of getting angry or frustrated.”

Tripp saw the best in everybody and being around him made you feel special because he was genuinely interested in the people around him.

“That’s what made him a beautiful soul,” O’Leary said. “He learned lessons a lot of adults still need to learn. That’s what made him beautiful.”

Tripp was a fixture at William Paca/Old Post, arriving early with his grandmother, a paraeducator at the school.

“You’re so used to seeing that face throughout school,” O’Leary said. “When that face, that smile, that hug are gone, the place is a little darker.”

Jennifer Burnett’s granddaughter, who was in Tripp’s class last year, is struggling with Tripp’s death. Her grandson was in his class this year.

Tripp was a great kid, she said, funny and he had a great smile.

She said everybody is grieving in the community at-large.

“Parents don’t expect to bury our children,” Burnett said.

Erin Miles of Abingdon walked out of the church Monday afternoon wiping tears from his eyes. He lived across the street from the Johnson family, including father Travis, before Miles moved. He has a 7-year-old son Imani and a 4-year-old son Joshua.

Miles would have the Johnson family over for cookouts often.

“The adults were having fun, the kids were having fun,” Miles said. “I don’t know if I’d feel right having them over, it might turn happy to sad.”

He said Tripp was “a strong little kid.” He knocked Imani, a first-grader at William Paca/Old Post, all over the place when they were wrestling, he laughed.

“[Tripp] was energetic, he was smiling. He always wanted to run, play hide and seek,” Miles said. “He was a helpful kid.”

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