St. Florian community mourns loss of beloved officer to coronavirus

Johnson's death came as a shock to the department and town because he seemed to be improving.

Posted: Dec 18, 2020 4:33 PM
Updated: Dec 18, 2020 6:54 PM

A small Shoals community is devastated after one of its police officers died of coronavirus complications.

Sgt. Walter Johnson was with the St. Florian Police Department for 10 years, and a state trooper for decades before that.

Sgt. Walter Johnson

"Yesterday afternoon, he was unresponsive. They couldn't resuscitate him. I'm sorry," said St. Florian Mayor Matthew Connolly.

Losing Johnson is tough to talk about. The whole community and Johnson's co-workers are still shocked, because he got sick so fast. He started having symptoms last week.

By Sunday, Johnson was in the North Alabama Medical Center, according to Connolly. Johnson had spoken with several of his brothers in blue and told them he was feeling better, but then, he suddenly died Thursday night.

"For something that sudden that we weren't expecting, it's something hard to take," said St. Florian Police Officer Jonathan Terry. "We saw each other everyday. It's still a shock. We're still trying to understand what happened. Most of us just talked to him a few days ago."

Officers across the Shoals who knew Johnson are changing their Facebook profile pictures in honor of Johnson and wearing a strike through their badges.

At the St. Florian Police Department, Johnson's desk is untouched, like he'd be walking in at any moment. His reading glasses, pictures of family and a cross sit on his desk with an empty chair.

"Somebody said something about replacing him. I said we can't replace him. We can get someone to take his place, but there is no replacing a guy like Walter," said Connolly.

A man that had the love of his whole community. He was a pastor, too, at a local church. He didn't take a paycheck for preaching but did it out of the love of his church and the people he served. Those that knew Johnson described him as a godly man who loved his family.

"If you had a conversation with him, he was going to show you pictures of his grandkids. He loved his family. He even did a Zoom meeting for one of his granddaughter's kindergarten class," said Connolly.

While this department and community struggles with Johnson's loss, their prayers are with his family, who he adored.

"We plan on giving him the farewell he deserves. Really the best way to honor him is to come to work everyday and do our job the way he did. Give people respect and go home every night and love your family," said Terry.

Alabama State Troopers plan to honor Johnson with a memorial at McFarland Park at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

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