By Peter Sorkin
City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-Elmhurst), state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) attended the funeral.
On Saturday, Charles Sealey, 19, turned himself into police at the 101st Precinct in Far Rockaway, said Detective Valerie St. Rose, a Police Department spokeswoman.
He was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon, said Betsy Herzog, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney's office. If convicted, Sealey faces 25 years to life in prison.
St. Rose said Johnson, 17, of 353 Beach 57th St. in Far Rockaway, was shot once in the head at 56-16 Beach Channel Drive just down the road from the Edgemere Houses at 5 p.m. after he and two other friends confronted Sealey for taking his cousin's cell phone in a fight earlier in the day. When Johnson asked Sealey to return his cousin's cell phone, Sealey flashed a gun and the three friends left the front of the building, the detective said.
As Johnson walked from the building, Sealey allegedly fired a couple of shots at the group, striking Johnson in his right eye, St. Rose said. He was pronounced dead 40 minutes later at Peninsula Hospital.
Johnson, a born-again Christian was buried in his Christ the King football uniform at Amityville Cemetery Tuesday morning. He was a running back and a captain of the team.
In the program at the funeral at the First Baptist Church, his family said he was a talented athlete who began playing baseball at the age of 6 for the Far Rockaway Little League. His achievements on the field as well as in the classroom led to recruitment letters from some of the top colleges in the nation, including Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Bucknell and Columbia.
Many relatives at the funeral service said they were speechless at their family's loss because they believed Johnson had so much potential. They also said he had dreams of playing for the National Football League.
“You couldn't have asked for a better child,” said Ida Lindo, a cousin of Johnson's. “A child lost his life for nothing. This boy's life was taken from us way too soon and for what? We are all very sad.”
Another cousin, Antoine Lindo, said Johnson was an inspiration to him.
“He was a great man,” he said. “I loved him and I hope to see him someday.”
Bishop Rubin Mitchell of the Jesus Family Ministries called Johnson's death a tragedy, but said he will continue to be remembered for his accomplishments.
“God has a plan and your son was a part of that plan,” Mitchell told Johnson's parents and the overflowing congregation, many of whom stood in the back throughout the service. “In his death, he brought down the walls of race and religion. Here we are all of God's creatures. God used Thomas today on Martin Luther King's Birthday to bring this community together.”
Pastor James Holland and his wife Jean, who live in Far Rockaway, said they knew Johnson as a child because they have been friendly with the family for years. Both were in shock as the service concluded.
“It is a tremendous loss for someone who had so much potential,” James Holland said. “He was every mother's dream. To be taken out so early, it's a big loss. Words really can't describe it.”
“It was such an impact on the community,” said Jean Holland. “Some people live into their 50s or 60s and never have the impact on their community like he did.”
Mitchell said Thomas and his spirit would not be soon forgotten.
“Thomas was a running back,” Mitchell said. “But he does not have to run anymore. He's running for Jesus now and he has a seat in God's kingdom.”
Invoking King's refrain, Mitchell said of Johnson, “Thank God almighty he is free at last.”