A head-scratching situation that took a turn toward the utterly tragic as veered into the bizarre.
Monday morning, former Texas A&M wide receiver Thomas Johnson allegedly used a machete to hack a random jogger to death in a popular Dallas park. The 21-year-old Johnson twice admitted to police that he committed the crime, and is expected to face capital murder charges.
The stunning development comes nearly three years after Johnson, who played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2012, abruptly left the Aggies during the regular season. Johnson, with the help of police, was ultimately found in Dallas, and then left school in College Station and hasn’t been back since. However, ESPN‘s Outside the Lines has obtained police documents that show Johnson could have been suffering from some type of mental disorder even as he was a rising star — and their top-rated recruit that year — for the Aggies during their first season in the SEC.
In the documents, then-A&M assistant David Beaty, now the head coach at Kansas, told police that Johnson likely viewed the Nov. 10, 2012, upset of top-ranked Alabama as “a sign from God.” Two days later, Johnson abruptly disappeared, prompting Beaty, his position coach, to contact campus police as “his teammates had been concerned because Johnson had acted strangely over several months;” according to Beaty, it was the second time the player had disappeared since coming to campus earlier that year.
The police report also details other bizarre behavior from Johnson, most of which centers around religion. From OTL:
Beaty told officers that Johnson had texted a teammate, who the report refers to as Jordan Richards, a day earlier and “told him that he was Jesus and he was headed west.” (While Texas A&M had no one with that name on its roster in 2012, linebacker Jordan Richmond was a freshman.)
The report states that “Beaty explained that at one time, Johnson believed that Jordan was the devil but now believes that he has helped him become right with the Lord.” Johnson apparently believed that “several of the other players were also characters in the Bible,” the report states.
After the conversation with Beaty, police contacted several of Johnson’s teammates, relatives and friends, including his then-girlfriend who was attending college in Arlington, Texas. His mother told police about the last time he went missing, when he went to visit his 12-year-old cousin who lives near Dallas. His mother said Johnson had been “getting stuff from the Bible,” so she had taken him to a minister in Dallas to help him sort out what he was reading.
Police ultimately caught up to Johnson in Dallas by tracing his cellphone use. When they arrived to the cellphone’s last location, a man named Kevin Coleman told them that Johnson had just run out the back door of a house and that he knew police were looking for him. “Coleman stated that Johnson was crazy and believed he was Jesus,” the report states. Coleman, a friend of Johnson’s, told police that Johnson said he had walked from College Station to Hearne, Texas — 26 miles — and ridden a Greyhound bus to Dallas.
In a statement released shortly after the news of Johnson’s alleged involvement in the murder surfaced, A&M stated that the university is “not able to discuss this situation due to legal proceedings, but this is an awful tragedy for all involved,” and that Johnson “has not had any involvement with the football program over the past three years.”
In April of 2014, he allegedly broke into his aunt’s house and was ultimately convicted on a pair of felony charges. Two days after that alleged break-in, he was arrested for marijuana possession. In August of that same year, he pleaded no contest to a charge of evading arrest.
Writing for the San Antonio Express-News, Brett Zwerneman published a “where are they now” article on the four-star signee, coincidentally, just a couple of days before the alleged break-in. In the piece, Zwerneman spoke to Johnson’s mother, although Johnson himself declined to talk.
Given the events of the past couple of days, Linda Hanks‘ quotes are truly haunting.
“He’s working out, he’s getting in shape, and he shall return,” the mother said in April of last year regarding her son’s desire to return to football. “Thomas is just a very private person, but he’s always been a good kid. Respectful, accountable and bright. …
“Thomas is doing good — he really is. God has a plan for him.”