As Johnson walked around to get a better look, the man pulled out a loaded semi-automatic pistol. Johnson was unarmed, with only his instinct and his weight behind him.
Thirteen months later, bullet holes are still visible in the building’s wood-paneled lobby. Slender scars are hidden under Johnson’s white dress shirt-sleeves.
On Thursday, Johnson and the shooter will be together for the first time since that August morning; Floyd Lee Corkins II is scheduled to be sentenced at the U.S. District Court in Washington. Prosecutors are seeking a prison term of 45 years; Corkins’s attorney is asking for 111
2 years, citing his client’s chronic mental illness.
To co-workers at the Family Research Council, the 47-year-old who grew up in Southeast is now “Leo the Hero.” The mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday that left 12 people dead was a fresh, tragic reminder, Johnson’s colleagues and relatives said, of what could have happened if not for Johnson.
In February, Corkins admitted that he had targeted organizations he considered anti-gay and that he planned to kill “as many people as possible,” starting with the conservative think tank’s headquarters in Northwest, according to his signed plea agreement.
Corkins, who had volunteered at a gay community center in the District, was so angry with the anti-gay-marriage positions of the Family Research Council and the head of fast-food chain Chick-fil-A that he carried 15 sandwiches in his backpack and planned to “smother” the faces of his victims, according to court documents.
“Leo took a bullet for me. He took a bullet for the staff,” said Paul Tripodi, vice president of administration at the Family Research Council. A gold plaque in the lobby marks the spot of the struggle and the “heroic action” by Johnson, who “selflessly prevented a tragedy.”
It was all over in less than a minute. But not before Johnson almost pulled the trigger himself.
As Corkins rose from his spot behind the reception desk, he pointed his handgun at Johnson’s head and upper body. Johnson, who played junior varsity football at Ballou High School, shielded his face with one arm, ducked and charged.
Corkins fired three shots as the two men struggled. One hit Johnson in the left forearm. He kept going, pinning Corkins against a wall and punching him as hard as he could until he felt the grip on the weapon loosen.
“I knew I needed to get the gun. If I didn’t, he was going to kill me,” Johnson said as he walked through the crime scene with a reporter for the first time last week. “He didn’t come here to talk.”