EAST POINT, Ga. – Friends and relatives packed the small chapel of a funeral home Tuesday to remember the elderly woman killed in a shootout with plainclothes police who broke down the door of her home.
Kathryn Johnston was killed Nov. 21 when she confronted narcotics agents, who authorities said had obtained a "no-knock" search warrant for her home after an informant allegedly bought drugs from a man there that afternoon.
Police said the agents identified themselves, but when they knocked down Johnston's door she shot at them, wounding three of the officers.
Some mourners at Tuesday's service said they won't feel at peace about Johnston's death until police answer questions about why they believed drugs were being sold out of her house in northwest Atlanta.
"I've always thought from the beginning there was a mistake. Nobody wins in this situation," said JoAnne Trawick, a niece of the slain woman.
Family friend Kelly Hill remembered Johnston as a sharp, caring woman who was "like a mother" to her. Johnston never forgot birthdays, addresses or how much she spent at the grocery store each month, Hill said.
"She was the strongest person I've ever known," Hill said in a tearful eulogy. "People would come in town to visit me, and I would say 'You've got to meet Miss Johnston. She's a phenomenon."'
The FBI will lead the investigation of the shooting, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington said Monday. Seven narcotics investigators and a police sergeant have been placed on paid leave until the inquiry is complete.
A family spokesman, the Rev. Markel Hutchins, said an informant's statements to reporters that police told him to lie gave Johnston's family hope that the truth about the shooting will come out.
"They felt that the odds were stacked against them, but this has shown light into this darkness," Hutchins said.
A man who said he was the informant whose tip led to the warrant said in an interview aired Monday on WAGA-TV that he had never purchased drugs at Johnston's home. The man, whose identity was concealed, also said that police had asked him to lie about providing the information.
Pennington said the informant is in protective custody and would be a key part of the investigation.
After the shooting, officers said they found marijuana inside Johnston's home, but the chief said it was not a large amount.
Johnston was described by neighbors and relatives as living in fear; there were burglar bars on the windows of her one-story brick home and she rarely let anyone inside.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office reported Sunday that records show Johnston was 88, despite her family saying she was 92. The funeral program listed her birthday as June 26, 1914.