Mother begs witnesses to come forward two years after her son’s South Nashville murder

Unsolved Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — September 30th marks two years since Joe Johnson was shot in the back parking lot of the Dollar General on Lafayette Street in South Nashville.  

“Johnson, of Anderson Road, was shot multiple times at 10:40 p.m. as he was getting into a friend’s 2009 Jaguar sedan,” Earl Jordan read Tuesday during his annual Unsolved Murder Series news conference. Jordan is the founder of Partners in the Struggle, which is an organization focused on remembering cold case victims.

Johnson’s killing appeared to be anything but a random act of violence.  

“It appears the killers were waiting for Johnson to arrive at the car,” Jordan continued. “Johnson died shortly after arriving to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”  

It’s an act of hate Johnson’s mother, Tracey Shepherd, will never understand.  

“Everybody called him Smiley because that’s all he did was smile,” Shepherd said. “Every time you see him, he’d smile. You never knew when he had a bad day because he always smiled.” 

Johnson was a sibling to three sisters and a brother. He was born and raised in Nashville and worked for an electric company.  

The night of Johnson’s murder, his mom and sisters got together for a movie night.  

“We were like come on, come with us to watch a movie,” Shepherd recalled. “He was like ‘I don’t want to watch those movies you all be watching.’” 

Tragically, those memories of joking and laughter would turn to tears hours later. 

“When it’s somebody’s time, I guess it’s their time, but nobody wants somebody to go out like that,” Shepherd said. “I was so upset because he had to be there by himself and I couldn’t just be there to hold his hand and tell him it’s O.K.”  

Four months later, on Valentine’s Day, Metro police released pictures of two suspects in Johnson’s killing.  

Since then, Metro’s Interim Police Chief John Drake announced updates to the department’s homicide unit. He says as of October 1 of this year there are 24 new detectives, four sergeants and a lieutenant now dedicated to working homicides.  

“They’ve been busy, they’re working, and just know that we’re going to continue working hard until we can clear these cases,” Drake said. 

Based on evidence shared with Johnson’s mom, she believes there are multiple witnesses out there. 

“Everybody say what type of person he was, he was such a good person,” Shepherd said. “If you felt like he was just such a good person and he done everything for a lot of people and a lot of people have said that. If you can such good stuff about him, just stand up for him at least one time and say hey, I know something. Give some type of information that you know.”  

Now, Shepherd is begging for anyone who knows anything to come forward to police.  

“It wouldn’t give me closure with my son being dead, but it would give me some kind of peace with me not knowing the person is getting away with hurting my son,” Shepherd said.  

Nashville CrimeStoppers is dedicated to keeping tips anonymous so witnesses don’t have to fear retaliation. Anyone with information can leave a tip with CrimeStoppers at (615) 74-CRIME. Tips may even lead to a cash reward.  

News 2 is digging deeper into Tennessee’s most notorious unsolved cases.

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