The house is a small, brick, one story structure in far southeast Washington, recently rebuilt after it was demolished in a fire last February. A big white truck that serves as a neighborhood candy and grocery store is parked in its muddy backyard.
William C. Johnson - 56 years old, blind since his youth, insistently self-reliant, but generous with what he had - stepped out his back door toward the aging truck.Two shots were fired. Johnson, known to his friends as Doug or W.C., died less than two hours later.
In the atmosphere of sadness and bitterness that engulfted the Johnson's modest home at 53d and F Streets SE, his oldest daughter Cynthia Wallacc, 31 talked yesterday about the hardships and joys of family life here.
"It was hard. We didn't eat steak every day, but we ate," she said as she stood near a small Christmas tree in a still-unfurnished living room, crowded with relatives and other mourners. "He didn't believe in welfare. He was entigled to a (disability) pension, but he didn't want it." Though he was totally blind, she added, her father had worked hard, kept abreast of world and neighborhood events and never was one to give up.
Johnson was pronounced dead at D.C. General Hospital at 10:16 p.m. Tuesday as a result of bullet wounds in the abdomen, according to police and the D.C. medical examiner's office. A few hours later, police arrested one suspect on a murder charge. "Police were seeking a second person.
The shotting apparently occured when Johnson interrupted a robbery of his vending truck - one of many such robberies over the years, according to his family. Police termed it a robbery "attempt." Nevertheless, his family said the gunmen escaped with about $5 in coins. The robbers, they added, also had demanded larger-denomination bills, but did not get any.
Michael A. Short, the suspect arrested by police, was arraigned yesterday in D.C. Superior Court on a charge of felony murder one - murder of committed in connection with another criminal act. Short, 19, of 1333 Barnaby Ter. SE., was ordered held in lieu of $10,000 surety bond by Judge Bruce S. Mencher. A preliminary hearing was scheduled Dec. 30.
According to court and D.C. Bail Agency records, Short was convicted here last March of receiving stolen property and sentenced to three years' probation. He is also scheduled to stand trial in February, these records show, on a charge of carrying a dangerous weapon - a gun.
In the bail agency's records, Short is portrayed as an employed youth, who completed ninth grade at Ballou Senior High School and worked for about a year as a busboy at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase.
Short's lawyer, former Superior Court Judge Harry T. Alexander, entered a not-guilty plea, described Short as "falsely accused," and charged that Short had been beaten by five deputy U.S. marshals in the court cellblock. Judge Mencher asked Alexander to submit a formal account of his allegations.
Johnson - who is survived by his wife, Gloria, nine children and eight grandchildren - had earned a reputation for unusual kindness in his small community near the city's eastern edge.
Reathia M. Howard, who directs the city Recreation Department's programs at nearby Harris Elementary School, pointed yesterday to two cartons of tangerines, oranges and apples that, she said, Johnson had sent to the school Tuesday. This, she said, was his most recent of many gifts to the school's youngsters. Last year, he was given a Recreation Department award for his generosity.
According to his family, he was blinded as a youth when he tried to break up a street fight between two other boys, Johnson was cut with a broken bottle that left him partially blind, they said. Eventually his blindness worsened, leaving him completely without vision.
Since the 1950s, Johnson had run a small vending business from his home, his family recalled yesterday. At first he sold candy, soda, cigarettes and ice cream through a window of the house. Later, he outfitted his truck to serve as a backyard shop. Yesterday, the shelves inside the truck were stocked with bread, flour, cold cereal, candy and other goods.
Born in Aiken, S.C., near the Georgia border, Johnson came to Washington as a child, attended public schools and later studied braille and other skills at the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind here. His unusual life was interspersed with early episodes of violence.
In 1952, when he was already blind, Johnson was charged with fatally shooting another man but later was exonerated by a coroner's jury. The death was termed a justifiable homicide.Police testified at the time that Johnson had sought to break up a scuffle and had been attacked.
In 1954, Johnson was sentenced to a one-year jail term on bootlegging charges after pleading guilty to 10 counts of selling whiskey without a license. A newspaper account at the time said Johnson had been arrested along with several of his "lieutenants" in a police raid.
In addition to his wife, Johnson is survived by his mother, Emma; seven daughters, Shirley, Deborah, Gloria, and Beverly Johnson, Cynthia Wallace, Alfreda Rouse and Gloria Keys; two sons, Isaac and William Jr.; three brothers, Norman, James and Herbert and three sisters, Delores Mayo, Pearline Moore and Effie Chase. All live in the Washington area.