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IN A SNIPER'S GRIP

Latest Victim, Father of 2, Killed Doing His Job

October 23, 2002|Richard Simon and Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON -- It began as a routine day for bus driver Conrad E. Johnson as he prepared to start Route 34, which runs through the usually peaceful Washington suburb of Aspen Hill, Md., to the Bethesda subway station.

But on Tuesday morning, Johnson, a 35-year-old father of two, became the apparent 13th victim and 10th fatality of the Washington-area sniper. He was struck in the abdomen as he stood at the top of the steps of his bus shortly before 6 a.m. He died a short time later at a hospital.

"He had a large extended family, and he's going to be missed greatly," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.

Johnson, an African American, was the latest in a diverse group of the sniper's victims -- a cabdriver, a nanny, a landscaper, an entrepreneur, a schoolboy, an FBI analyst -- people of varying age and ethnicity.

Near the beige, two-story townhouse in the Maryland suburb of Oxon Hill, where Johnson lived with his wife, Denise, and children, Devon, 8, and Dante, 14, neighbors recalled him as friendly and outgoing.

"He was nice," said Felicia McClam, 12. "He was like the only grown-up who would come out here and play football with the kids."

Her uncle, Gary McClam, said Johnson loved to wash his car "every chance he could get" while listening to music.

"It's horrible," neighbor Barbara Addison said. "What else can you say?"

Johnson had been a bus driver for about a decade. His father, Tyrone, works as a coordinator for the same agency -- Montgomery County's Ride-On bus system, which has 336 vehicles and carries about 75,000 passengers daily.

Johnson's fellow drivers expressed fear and shock after Tuesday's shooting. One said he was scouring the horizon every time he stops.

"It seemed like he enjoyed his job a whole lot. It's hard to believe," one of Johnson's regular passengers said.

"This is a terrible loss of one of our county employees," said Duncan, who met with Johnson's family. "He loved basketball. He loved his kids."

Gino Renne, president of Johnson's union, the Municipal & County Government Employees Organization Local 1994, called him "a great human being, a man of enormous integrity, a strong family man and an excellent employee."

County spokeswoman Mary Anderson said the county work force was stunned that the attack had claimed one of its own.

"It's surreal," Anderson said.

Johnson's "only mission [Tuesday] was to transport the citizens of the county he served so well," said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.

*

Times researcher Robert Patrick contributed to this report.

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