Newark police officer William C. Johnson Jr. was a man who loved to eat, told corny jokes, enjoyed a good cookout and cared deeply about his two daughters.
Family and friends of the fallen officer took to the microphone at New Hope Baptist Church on Sussex Avenue Wednesday night to pay their respects.
"I always see him at my house because he sometimes he bring Tiyana," said one little boy. "He's a good person. He's like my father."
Johnson, 45, a 16-year veteran of the Newark Police Department's communication division and single father of Felicia, 22, and Tiyana, 11, was shot in a drive-by shooting last Thursday. He died the next day at University Hospital.
Authorities say two men opened fire on Johnson and others standing in line at the Texas Fried Chicken and Pizza restaurant at the corner of Lyons Avenue and Clinton Place. One man, Rasul McNeil-Thomas, 19, of Newark, has been arrested and charged with the murder, but a second man remains at-large. Two others, including a 21-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman with a toddler were wounded in the incident. The toddler was unharmed.
The slain officer's open casket was adorned with red roses and baby's breath near the front altar for the three-hour wake.
"I have so many questions. I just want to know why," said a cousin of Johnson to more than 50 people inside the church. "Why would anyone do that?"
Outside, the street was packed with police and fire vehicles as uniformed officers trickled into the church. People quietly conversed in small groups, reuniting to share memories of Johnson.
Forty-three-year-old Venus W., who declined to give her last name, said she went to Essex County Vocational Technical High School with Johnson in 1981.
"He's fun, witty, with a sweet personality," she said. "He would give you the shirt off his back. My heart is heavy and very saddened. We need good people like that around longer."
Gregory S., a bodyguard who lives in Newark, said he had known Johnson for eight years when Johnson worked at the Garden Spires apartment complex on 1st Street. He remembered Johnson as a "tough," but friendly police officer dedicated to his line of duty.
"He helped kids out. If they needed anything … ice cream or whatever," said Gregory. "Before he locked you up, he'd talk to you first. He'd still lock you up, don't get me wrong. He wasn't that kind of gentle giant."
Gregory said he was helping out Johnson's family during their time of grief by preparing meals.
"They're holding up very good. They're strong," he said. "This death is going to bring light to the whole police department and the community."
The funeral for Johnson is Thursday at 11 a.m. at New Hope Baptist Church. Johnson will be buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Union.