NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Church members and friends of a slain Correctional Administrator at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary gathered Sunday morning at her church in Nashville.
Those who attend West Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church are used to seeing Debra Johnson every Sunday.
Authorities said Johnson, 64, was killed last week by an inmate who escaped the facility.
Church members said Johnson was a long-time usher at Fifteenth Baptist and would drive two-hours every weekend to spend time with her family and attend the service.
“As a Christian, I have to believe that she is in a better place and she’s looking down,” said Pamela Norton.
Norton attends West Fifteenth Baptist, where Johnson served as an usher.
“She’s our angel, she’s smiling, she’s still greeting those who will pass through the gates after her.”
Another church member, Victoria Smith, said she met Debra ten years ago. When she saw Johnson two Sundays ago, Smith said she never imagined that would be their last encounter.
“I wasn’t here last Sunday and that was her last Sunday here. I didn’t get the chance to see her, but again, who would have known,” Smith said as she fought back tears.
Those who knew Debra describe her as a beloved mother, grandmother, sister, and a remarkable Christian woman.
“I thought this morning, well, maybe God will place her at the gate of heaven and she can guard the doors there like she did here,” said Smith.
Church administrators said after greeting her fellow church members, Johnson would take a seat in a pew in the back left corner of the church; a seat that now sits empty.
“Her spirit was so wonderful and to walk in there now, to go through that door and she’s not standing there with a smile and with a hug,” said Smith. “She is going to be terribly missed.”
Even though they can no longer physically see Johnson’s smile, those who spent every Sunday with her still feel the warmth of her spirit radiating through the church.
“I know she’s absent as far as the body but her spirit is truly living on in everyone and so that’s what I’ve been holding onto,” said Norton.
A viewing for Johnson will be held Thursday, August 15, from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church.
A service will be held Friday, August 16, with visitation from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at The Temple Church.