You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Fond memories amid grief for Navy Yard families

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Navy Yard shooting rampage on Monday claimed a dozen people of different ages, backgrounds and experiences. But the families they left behind are showing a similar resiliency in the aftermath of the tragedy.

John Roger Johnson showed his daughters how to stay strong when things get tough and to help others before themselves. That lesson has lent strength to his family as they come to terms with the fact that they can no longer experience one of his popular bear hugs.

"We just keep thinking of dad. We want him to be proud of us," said daughter Karin Johnson. "It's our turn, just to remember how dad is, what he did for everybody else is what we need."

At 73, Mr. Johnson was the oldest victim. He left behind a wife, Judy, and four daughters. On Tuesday, just a day after his death, the women stood at the foot of their driveway to talk about their loss.

Miss Johnson said her family initially shied away from reporters, instead choosing to follow their father's modest footsteps.

"That's how we were raised," she said. "My dad very much flew under the radar. Anybody who knew him knew he was never about the limelight."

On Wednesday, Miss. Johnson said the result of their interview had been a source of comfort to more than just she and her family.

"We didn't realize how much we were helping our friends," she said. "You always think sure, our parents are great, but just the messages we've been getting, like 'oh my gosh your dad gave the best bear hugs.' That part is comforting."

Bobbie Frasier, brother of 53-year-old Sylvia Frasier, said he and his five siblings are drawing comfort from their faith as they come to terms with their sister's death.

"Our parents always taught us about truth, forgiveness, love and respect," Mr. Frasier said from his parents' home in Lanham. "We all try to practice that each and every day of our lives. We're a close-knit family, we love each other, we work together to support each other, and that's the kind of things we hope most people would be doing."

Ms. Frasier, a Waldorf, Md., resident, worked at Naval Sea Systems Command as an information assurance manager.

On Wednesday, her family released a short biography of a woman known for her "infectious smile" and her work with the Rhema Christian Center Church in the District.

"We draw our strength from God and our spiritual practices," Mr. Frasier said. "If we didn't have God in our life, I think the hole would be even larger than it is now."

Steve Hunter said talking about his nephew's death "makes it easier" on his family. Michael Arnold, 59, was on a team that designed ships at Navy Yard, though one of the Navy veteran's first loves was flying.

Mr. Hunter, a Rochester, Mich., resident, said he was on a sales call when his sister, Mr. Arnold's mother, Patricia, called to tell him of a shooting in the building where his nephew worked.

Mr. Hunter said like so many people, "you don't ever expect that to happen to your family."

"How do you stay strong? You say, 'It's your family, you have to be strong, right' " Mr. Hunter said. "We gather together as a family, to draw strength from each other. We want the word out, I'm sure that every family wants the word out, that these were good people, doing their jobs and they loved their country."

Jane Bissler, the first vice president of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, said that for relatives of victims in mass tragedies, interviews and concerned friends can serve as distractions. As time passes, relatives left behind could find themselves at another stage of grief.

"It becomes more personalized as far as, 'Oh my gosh, this is my loss now, " she said.

She said in the short term, relatives often face the challenge of preserving the memory of their loved one as an individual and not a statistic.

"People are not looking for three minutes of fame, they're looking at this as 'That's my mom,'" Ms. Bissler said. "Nobody wants their loved ones to be forgotten.

Mr. Hunter shared the sentiment.

"I guess you let things roll off you when it's somebody else," he said. "All of a sudden it happens to your family."

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.