Published October 23, 2002
OXON HILL, Md. – Preparing Tuesday morning to take commuters on another busy weekday route, Conrad Johnson was going about his usual routine: cleaning out his bus, running down a checklist, completing paperwork.
Within hours, dozens of his relatives were flocking to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where they learned Johnson had died -- the 10th person murdered by the serial sniper preying on victims in and around the nation's capital.
"He had a large extended family, and he's going to be missed greatly," Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan said.
Johnson was struck once in the abdomen as he stood at the top of the steps of his Montgomery County Ride-On bus at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Police confirmed Wednesday that Johnson's death is linked to 13 other shootings that have killed nine other people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Johnson, a married father of two sons, had worked for the county for nearly 10 years. "This is a terrible loss of life," Duncan said.
As federal, state and local law enforcement officers combed a park near the Metro stop where Johnson had parked, the destination sign on his bus displayed the message "Not In Service."
In his Oxon Hill neighborhood of townhouses and tree-lined streets, residents expressed sorrow at his slaying.
"This is hitting hard. This not only strikes us as a community, but as a people, as a nation," said Harold McClam, who frequently saw Johnson leaving for work in the mornings, wearing his bus driver's uniform.
"It strikes so close to home. When they catch this guy they need to punish him to the full extent of the law."
Steve Addison, 33, a WorldCom engineer who lives near the Johnsons, described Conrad Johnson as a "joker who liked having a clean car and loved being outside with his sons."
He said he often saw him on weekends washing his car as Johnson's wife, Denise, sat on the steps of the home, looking on. "That was just his thing, doing that and taking care of his boys," Addison said.
He added that Johnson was a fervent football fan, weightlifter and "real family man. He loved his boys. He was always taking care of them, doing things for them. Every time you see him it was always, 'I've got to take my sons to this place or something."'
Johnson's sister, Melinda Williams, who pulled up to his beige two-story home Tuesday afternoon, said family members did not want to talk yet about the killing. Several Prince George's County police cars were parked in the development.
Johnson's "only mission (Tuesday) morning was to transport the citizens of the county he served so well," said Gov. Parris Glendening, expressing his sympathy to the slain man's family and friends.
Fellow bus driver Wade Vassell stopped Tuesday at the Silver Spring Metro station. The shaken co-worker said a friend called him with the news of the death of "C.J."
"I know my boy eight years. He was my friend," Vassell said. "I'm nervous, real nervous."
As the union representing drivers discussed increasing security, Alphonso Banks, who works the same route as Johnson, said he will cover some of his bus windows with cardboard to protect himself.
"I feel scared," said Banks, 35, who was to be back on the job Wednesday at 7:15 a.m.