- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

Bus drivers Braxton Wiggins and Conrad Johnson often took turns buying coffee at the Ride On depot shop in Silver Spring before heading out for their early morning runs.

On a morning like yesterday, the talk would have been about NBA basketball, the two trading gentle jabs about the previous night’s playoff game. Mr. Johnson was often the last person Mr. Wiggins, 52, would see before heading out on his route.

That routine was abruptly ended Oct. 22, when Mr. Johnson, 35, was fatally shot as he started his run in Aspen Hill, the last victim felled in the Washington-area sniper shootings.

Now, mornings are a bit quieter at the shop, Mr. Wiggins said.

“He’s not there in the morning to run off at the mouth at me,” Mr. Wiggins said, chuckling as he remembered his friend.

Mr. Johnson’s family was on hand yesterday as Montgomery County renamed the Aspen Hill bus depot in his honor. Mr. Johnson’s mother, Sonia Wills, and wife, Denise Johnson, pulled the covering off a plaque with his name, dedicating the low brick building to the driver.

“I’m honored that my son has not been forgotten,” Mrs. Wills said after the ceremony with Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and other county leaders.

A photo of Mr. Johnson has been hung in the bus shop’s main room, along with a picture of the bus stop where he was shot. Mrs. Wills kissed her fingers and pressed them against her son’s face as she looked at his photo.

“What should have been a routine start in his routine day as Ride On bus driver instead became a tragedy as Conrad became the last victim of the Washington area sniper shooting,” Mr. Duncan said.

Montgomery was hit hardest by the October shootings. Six of the 13 victims were shot in the county, and the spree started Oct. 2 in Aspen Hill. A seventh victim, Dean Harold Meyers, 53, was shot at a Manassas gas station but lived in Gaithersburg.

Suspects John Allen Muhammad, 42, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, are scheduled to go on trial this fall in Virginia for shootings in Prince William and Fairfax counties. Both face death sentences.

Mrs. Wills and Mrs. Johnson have become active in gun-control efforts since the shootings. Mrs. Wills has pushed for ballistic-fingerprinting laws in Maryland, while Mrs. Johnson has lobbied against federal legislation that would give gun makers and sellers immunity from some gun-related lawsuits.

Mr. Johnson’s relatives, along with the family of sniper victim James “Sonny” Buchanan, sued the gun manufacturer that made the Bushmaster rifle used in the shootings and the Tacoma, Wash., gun store linked to the weapon.

“If I can do anything, the best I can do is to prevent another mother or wife from suffering. I will go to extremes for that,” Mrs. Wills said.


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