Bus operators from as far as Indiana are steering their 40-foot coaches to a Landover church today to honor Conrad E. Johnson, the Ride On bus driver who became the sniper's 13th victim when he was fatally shot moments before his first run Tuesday.
The drivers, representing about 14 systems, will converge at the Silver Spring Metro Station and travel as a diesel cortege to Glendale Baptist Church, where a wake and funeral will follow.
Johnson was the first bus driver to be killed on duty in Ride On's 27-year history. He worked as a driver for 10 years, following in the footsteps of his stepfather, Tyrone Wills, who recently was promoted to schedule coordinator.
"When one is harmed, it's felt by all," said Gino Renne, president of the county bus drivers union, Local 1994 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. "A lot of it is because they are so vulnerable. Bus operators across the country are constantly under threat of abuse, both verbal and physical, from passengers."
E-mail, letters and sympathy cards from bus riders and drivers around the world have poured into Ride On headquarters in Rockville. They came from a small system in rural Ohio as well as the massive Toronto Transit Commission.
And from Northern Ireland, a bus inspector in Belfast wrote, "Our staff and drivers have suffered getting attacked as they carry out their duty. . . . I know how you feel."
Many of Ride On's 500 bus operators asked to attend today's service, general manager Carolyn Biggins said. To allow them to participate, the transit system will follow a Sunday schedule, which requires only about one-third of the agency's weekday workforce.
The bus cortege will begin at 9 a.m. from Silver Spring and travel with a police escort the 18 miles to the church. It will head north on Colesville Road to the Capital Beltway, proceed to Central Avenue in Prince George's County and then turn west.
After the 10 a.m. wake and noon service, the buses will travel back to the Beltway, go south to Pennsylvania Avenue and then on to Route 223/Woodyard Road for burial at Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton.
The buses will carry anyone who wants to attend the funeral, Biggins said.
As the funeral begins in Landover, all Ride On buses on the road in Montgomery County will pull over to observe a minute of silence. Ride On buses will be free today.
Johnson, 35, was scheduled to pick up his first passenger in Aspen Hill when the sniper found him about 6 a.m. Tuesday. As he stood on the top step of Bus 5705, a single bullet ripped into his abdomen. Surgeons at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda tried in vain to save his life.
His violent death devastated co-workers at the Ride On garage in Silver Spring, where the Oxon Hill father of two was well-known and well-liked. "I could call him any time of the day or night if I needed something," said Nelvin Ransome, another driver. "I was proud to say that Conrad Johnson was a friend of mine."