Losing a sister is difficult enough. Coping with that loss alongside a criminal investigation into her death and other relatives’ recovery from wounds in theattack that killed her adds several more degrees of difficulty.
Through it all, Shaterral Johnson wears strength as a knight wears armor.
Between errands to the printer for her sister’s funeral program and the paper for the obituary, the interim mayor of Grand Coteau sat for a few minutes to share memories of her sister Shameka.
Shameka Johnson — known as Mikki — was the first of Shaterral Johnson’s three younger sisters. “We were like peas in a pod,” she said.
“She was a sweet, sweet, special person,” the elder sister said. “She was born with a learning disorder so she never finished high school. She was home, helping to take care of my mom.”
The mayor, who also works in the Cankton office of the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Department, is a major provider for her single mother and younger sister.
“God kept me sane to keep the family going,” she said with a weary smile.
Although Johnson honored a prosecutor’s advice to avoid talking about details of the stabbing that took her sister’s life and injured her mother, another sister and a cousin, she maintains that Mikki’s efforts to pull the attacker away from her sister Surlay kept things from getting much worse in Sunset the afternoon of Aug. 26.
The suspect faces first-degree murder charges in connection with the deaths of Mikki and of Sunset police officer Henry Nelson in the small town just inside St. Landry Parish.
“When I got there, she was gone,” Johnson said. Mikki’s teenage daughter and a 3-year-old cousin who’d locked herself in a bathroom were also at the house during the attack. They escaped physical harm.
In the days since, some of the youngest relatives have been asking about Mikki, Johnson said. “They say, ‘Let’s go to heaven and bring her back.’”
People beyond the family have responded with kindness, and then some, she said. “Every day this week, someone brings us food.” Because the house many of the Johnson women shared is a crime scene, they store it at Shaterral Johnson’s house.
“I’m going to have to buy another refrigerator,” she said, and that might not have been a joke.
Her role as breadwinner allowed her to treat Mikki to her favorite activities.
“She loved to travel, to attend the NBA games I would go to,” Shaterral Johnson said. “She loved meeting the basketball players. We met many musicians. She loved to be on Facebook. She attended President (Barack) Obama’s first inauguration with me. We went to Bobby Jindal’s two inaugurations and to all the political conventions I would go to.”
As long as the 41-year-old didn’t have to get dressed up, she thoroughly enjoyed her life, her older sister said. In a tote bag, she carried photos of many trips they’d shared and a group picture from a family reunion last October in Grand Coteau. The sisters had planned a trip to Florida for later this month.
The everyday visits are the ones the oldest Johnson sibling said she’ll miss most.
“It’s rough because in the mornings on my way to the sheriff’s department, I’d drop off the (news)paper with Mama and Shameka,” she said. Several times a week she’d stop there for lunch or dinner.
Mikki, she said, “was my personal Cinderella. She took care of me, and I financially took care of them.”
Now she’ll shoulder responsibility for her sister’s daughter, a senior at Beau Chene High School who hopes to attend college starting next year. There’s a fund to accept donations in Shameka Johnson’s name at the Bank of Sunset.
She also plans to lead a life the sister she now calls her “hero guardian angel” expressed pride in.
The interim mayor of her town will spend much of her time after Saturday’s funeral campaigning to remove “interim” from her title.
“I am qualifying first thing Tuesday morning,” Shaterral Johnson said. “My sister would want me to do it.”