Described by friends as “a protector to all of those he loved,” 45-year-old Shannon Johnson wrapped his arms around his younger female co-worker when the shooting began and told her, “I got you.”

Johnson died in the San Bernardino massacre last week. Denise Peraza, the 27-year-old he comforted, lived.

Peraza told reporters in a statement over the weekend that she is alive because Johnson selflessly shielded her from the gunfire:

Wednesday morning at 10:55 a.m. we were seated next to each other at a table, joking about how we thought the large clock on the wall might be broken because time seemed to be moving so slowly.
I would have never guessed that only 5 minutes later, we would be huddled next to each other under the same table, using a fallen chair as a shield from over 60 rounds of bullets being fired across the room.
While I cannot recall every single second that played out that morning, I will always remember his left arm wrapped around me, holding me as close as possible next to him behind that chair.
And amidst all the chaos, I’ll always remember him saying these three words, “I got you.”
I believe I am still here today because of this amazing man. This amazing, selfless man who always brought a smile to everyone’s face in the office with his lively stories about his hometown back in Georgia.
This is Shannon Johnson, who will be deeply missed by all. This is Shannon Johnson. My friend, my hero.

A friend of Johnson’s girlfriend set up a GoFundMe page to cover the cost of sending his remains home to Georgia where he is from and his family still lives. They surpassed their $35,000 goal, raising close to $50,000 as of late Sunday night.

In an update on the fundraising page, the friend wrote that the remaining money will be “used to spread his message of ‘I Got You.’ ” It’s the type of simple phrase, like Todd Beamer’s “Let’s Roll” on Flight 93, that defines heroism.

“Shannon would want us to encourage the people of this world to take care of each other,” she wrote.

His girlfriend, Mandy Pifer, told the Los Angeles Times that Shannon, her boyfriend of three years, loved working at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health because of its diversity. She said he often had “friendly conversations about religion with Syed Rizwan Farook, a fellow restaurant inspector and one of the shooters.”

How a shattered community is healing in aftermath of San Bernardino shooting

SAN BERNARDINO, CA - DECEMBER 7: Elvina Guerrero holds a candle during a candlelight vigil held at the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors headquarters in San Bernardino, CA on Monday, December 07, 2015. A heavily armed man and woman opened fire Wednesday on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing multiple people and seriously wounding others in a precision assault, authorities said. Hours later, they died in a shootout with police. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

After Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, began their rampage, killing 14 people during their department’s holiday lunch, Peraza quickly called her sister from her hiding spot. She’d been shot in the back. She wanted to tell her that she loved her. 

Her sister, Stephanie Rose Baldwin, wrote a message on Facebook last week honoring Johnson for saving her younger sibling’s life.

“This angel of a man was sitting next to my sister when the shooting happened,” she wrote. “He helped protect her from the bullets and we are so grateful for his heroic love, that most likely saved her life. She said he was a very sweet man and she spoke with him often at work. Our heart breaks hearing of his passing, and it bursts knowing of his love for my sister.”

Family and friends remembered the 14 victims of the Dec. 2 shooting attack in San Bernardino, Calif., as "hard-working, family-loving, gentle people." (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Want more inspiring news and ideas to improve your life? Sign up for the Saturday Inspired Life newsletter.

If you liked this story on Inspired Life, you may also enjoy: