After high school, Johnson worked jobs in construction, retail and security. At the Family Research Council since 1999, he spent seven years as a security guard before becoming the building operations manager. He was finishing a morning shift at the front desk just before 11 a.m. on Aug. 15, 2012.
In the heat of his struggle with Corkins, Johnson’s adrenaline was pumping. His left arm had swollen to twice its normal size and he could not move his fingers. Still, he managed to wrest the gun from Corkins and force him to the ground.
“I thought I was paralyzed,” Johnson said. “I was enraged. I was going to shoot him. I was going to kill him.”
Corkins pleaded with Johnson not to shoot, Johnson recalled. He told him essentially, “It’s not about you,” it’s about the policies of the Family Research Council, according to court documents and interviews.
“But you shot me,” Johnson said he responded.
Johnson did not fire back. His faith intervened, he said: “The Lord spoke to me.”
In the months before the shooting, Johnson had gotten in shape. He took vigorous walks to the Washington Monument, lifted light weights and had shed about 40 pounds.
The shooting put Johnson in the hospital for a week after emergency surgery for the shattered bones in his forearm. He was back in the intensive care unit soon after for blood clots in his lung.
For weeks, Johnson couldn’t lift anything heavier than a coffee cup. At home in Oxon Hill, he leaned on his girlfriend of 13 years, Erica Reed, for the most basic tasks: getting dressed, preparing breakfast, taking out the trash.
There were painful, grueling weeks of physical therapy as he stretched, pulled and squeezed to regain motion and strength in his arm.
Johnson says he has never felt traumatized and views the shooting as an isolated incident. He has prayed often but did not seek professional counseling.
There were periods of anger and frustration, though, for a man who was used to taking care of things and taking care of everybody.
“He’s the crutch, he’s the support, so we all had to come together to support him,” Reed said.
Johnson was eager to get back to work when he returned in November. His family had reservations, but he assured them that his days of manning the front desk were over. The Family Research Council now relies on security from armed off-duty or retired law enforcement officers.
“I had it in my mind that it could happen again and didn’t want him to go back,” said his mother, Virginia Johnson, her eyes getting teary. “It was a little too fast.”
In April, Johnson had another surgery to replace four inches of bone in his left arm with bone from his pelvis. Metal plates remain permanently in his arm. There’s still discomfort, numbness where the bullet entered and pulsating pain if he overdoes it lifting heavy bags.
Johnson plans to be in the courtroom with his mother, girlfriend and dozens of employees from the Family Research Council when Corkins learns his punishment Thursday.
“It’s important to make a statement, to let everyone know the impact and how traumatizing it’s been for my family,” Johnson said. “I want to look in his eyes. I want to see if there is any remorse.”
Johnson initially struggled with the hero label. He didn’t want a big fuss and requested a private ceremony when Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) awarded him the city’s first medal of honor.
“I’d like to think that anyone would have done what I did,” Johnson said. “I’m just Leo at the end of the day.”