They were track stars and state champions at Wyatt High School, members of the 2000 400-meter relay team, and now two are dead, victims of senseless shootings, eight years apart.
Chester Johnson, 32, was found shot in his 1999 four-door Acura at 2:20 a.m. Tuesday in east Fort Worth in the 3700 block of Village Creek Road. He had been shot in the chest and abdomen.
“I’ve lost two kids off of that relay team,” said longtime Wyatt track coach Lee Williams. “It’s pretty devastating to me. I lost Darrent to a useless killing up in Denver after the football season, and then I lost this young man.”
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Johnson ran track at Wyatt from 1998 to 2002, excelling as a sprinter at a school long known for its relay teams.
Wyatt’s 1998 400-meter relay team set a national high school record of 39.76 seconds and the 2000 team — Darrent Williams, Johnson, his cousin Nicholas Johnson and Milton Wesley — won the Class 4A (now 5A) state title in a season-best time of 40.46 seconds. Johnson was a sophomore and Darrent Williams a junior when they won state.
In 2001, Wyatt, which returned the two Johnsons and Darrent Williams, ran a 40.39 but finished second to Houston Forest Brook.
Williams went on to play football at Oklahoma State and then for the Broncos. He was 24, out with friends and teammates at a nightclub when he was shot leaving in a limousine.
Johnson, too, was shot in his car, where police found him critically injured. A MedStar ambulance transported him to John Peter Smith Hospital where he later died.
His death was ruled a homicide.
No arrests had been made in Johnson’s shooting as of Wednesday night and no other information was available, said Fort Worth police spokeswoman Tracey Knight.
Johnson’s mother Cynthia Johnson, 58, said her family found out about his death when they saw his recently purchased Acura on the news.
“I just dropped,” his mom said.
Darrent Williams’ killer, Willie Clark, was found guilty of murder in 2010 after fellow Denver gang members turned him in. He got life in prison plus 1,152 years.
Johnson took it hard when Darrent Williams was killed.
“Chester was real close with D-Will,” his mom said through tears Wednesday night at her home. “It really hurt him. It hurt me because he would come to my house.”
‘He was a good young man’
Lee Williams, Wyatt’s track coach for 38 years, choked up Wednesday night when he spoke of Johnson and Darrent Williams.
“Chester and Darrent had great personalities,” Lee Williams said. “They could throw a smile on you.”
He had seen Johnson right before school let out last year. He was picking someone up. The two exchanged waves.
On Tuesday a former athlete visited the coach at the school when, like Johnson’s mom, he saw Johnson’s Acura on the news.
“I try not to show my emotions in front of the kids. It’s tough, you watch the kids grow up and all you want is for them to be successful,” Lee Williams said. “It’s tough for an old man.”
Lee Williams said Johnson ran track for three years before suffering an injury to his groin at the junior Olympics in Florida, forcing him to sit out his senior year.
“He had been running track since he was 4 years old,” Cynthia Johnson said. “It took a lot from him because he couldn’t run. His grades fell. He was upset with himself.”
But she pushed her son to get it together and he finished high school and later graduated from Texas College in Tyler with a degree in physical education.
“He was a good young man, it was just he had the injury that was frustrating to him,” Lee Williams said. “My wife was crazy about him. She always followed me to competitions with my kids. There was just something about Chester she loved. She is devastated right now.”
‘It’s just two of us now’
Johnson had been staying with friends in Fort Worth and working through a temp agency. His goal was to someday be a track coach, Cynthia Johnson said.
The night before her son died, he walked out of the house and told his mom he loved her. The morning before he died, he texted his youngest sibling, 27-year-old Shuntel Johnson, that he loved her.
More than 20 family members gathered at Cynthia Johnson’s home Wednesday night, struggling to understand.
“I heard my husband’s nephew was in the car with him,” she said. “I’m looking for him to call me and say what happened. I can hear it. I am looking for some truth-telling.”
Johnson was her only son.
Her youngest, Shuntel Johnson, wrote her brother a letter the night he died.
“His question was always, ‘Do you love me,?’ ” Shuntel Johnson said through tears. “I wrote to him, ‘My answer was always yes.’ ”
The 27-year-old said her brother was always her protector.
“I keep calling his phone hoping that he’ll answer,” she said.
Cynthia Johnson said she has always told her children to be careful, because “tomorrow isn’t promised to anybody.”
Johnson had worked with the Texas Hurricanes youth club recently, his former Wyatt teammate Milton Wesley said.
Wesley, who went to community college in Houston for a while before returning to Fort Worth, recently worked with the Fort Worth Sharks Track Club when he was not at his job at a Grand-Prairie-based printing company.
“It’s just two of us now,” Wesley, 34, said of him and Johnson’s cousin Nicholas Johnson.
Nicholas Johnson lives in Fort Worth, too, after a track scholarship sent him to the University of Texas. He later joined the Army and spent time in Iraq, where he injured his neck.
The 32-year-old said he hasn’t been able to wrap his mind around the shooting.
His cousin leaves behind a daughter, Zarhiya, who will turn 2 on Nov. 27.
“They were both good kids just like any other students that were trying to achieve something,” Lee Williams said. “They were proud to be a part of the Fort Worth Wyatt track team. They kept the tradition going.”
Staff writer Ryan Osborne contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.