published Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Chattanooga homicide victim tried for a new start

  • photo
    Lorenzo Harper, left, and others attempt to calm and comfort the daughter of shooting victim Barbara Johnson as medical personnel removed Johnson's body. Johnson was shot to death on Rawlings Street by an unknown gunman.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Barbara Johnson thought she would make it out.

"She started out a young age, not having nobody," said Cookie Pack, who worked with Johnson in an alternative sentencing program that helps people who struggle with addiction.

Johnson, 45, may have had plans to start a new life, but instead she died from multiple gunshot wounds to her face and neck, according to a Hamilton County medical examiner's report released Tuesday. She was killed last week by an unknown gunman who opened fire on her as she walked in the 2000 block of Rawlings Street.

Johnson was a known figure in East Chattanooga, mostly seen on the streets, looking to feed her cocaine addiction. Her street presence gave her a front seat to the violence that routinely mars the North Orchard Knob Avenue neighborhood where she stayed. Reports among neighborhood residents suggest that she was gunned down by members of the 52 Hoover Crips because she was labeled as an informant.

According to Chattanooga police, information that she shared -- if she shared any -- was never enough to make an arrest in a case. But it's entirely possible someone thought she knew more, according to a source at the police department.

As of Tuesday afternoon, police still were searching for leads in her death.

After her most-recent jail stint resulting from a prostitution and drug arrest in September 2011, she was ordered by the court to go through an alternative sentencing program known as the Transformation Project.

The classes she attended in Silverdale Detention Facilities allowed her to qualify for early release in March. If she attended nine to 15 months of additional classes, she would graduate from the program.

Statistics kept by the program since 2004, show only 25 percent who graduate reoffend.

"I really feel that in her heart she wanted to change," Pack said. "She was so excited. She was so happy."

But she was soon drawn into her old life. She came home to find her daughter had not paid the bills and the power was cut off. Johnson didn't want to cut ties, Pack said, she wanted to save her boyfriend; she wanted to save her daughter; she wanted to save everyone.

"When you're re-entering, that's the first thing you have to change -- people, places and things," Pack said.

On March 26, Johnson violated the conditions of her release when she continued to miss meetings for the Transformation Project. Pack said she and others would call to try to reach her.

Dayna Minderman, another worker who dealt with Johnson in the Transformation Project, said they'd call and say, "'You're not in class. We're really worried about you.'

"We really stayed on top of her."

What they heard her say, rather matter of factly, was disturbing, Pack and Minderman said.

"'My house just got shot up.' Or 'I've got to get the dope man out of my house and I can't get him to leave.' It was just normal for her," Pack said.

Anyone with any information about Johnson's slaying can contact Chattanooga police at 423-698-2525.

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