PALMETTO -- Some people lose a child and can hardly bear to visit their grave.
Susan Moore can’t stay away.
On Sunday, Moore and about 20 others gathered at Skyway Memorial Gardens on what would have been the 22nd birthday of Moore’s daughter, Crystal Johnson.
Moore and her family go to Crystal’s grave so often that they’ve chased the sadness away.
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On Sunday, little children enjoyed cupcakes, laughter and fun.
The family decorates Crystal’s grave every holiday, including Halloween, New Years, Christmas and Easter.
But Dec. 18 is special, everyone agrees.
Johnson died at approximately 1:24 a.m. on July 12, 2009, after three men kicked in an apartment door at DeSoto Village Apartments, 3810 Fifth St. E.
Crystal Johnson lived in the apartment with her mother and older sister, Brittany, now 23.
Shots were fired, striking Johnson once in the chest. She died shortly after.
Johnson was six months pregnant. Lariah Faith died eight hours after being delivered.
“I don’t know the men they have arrested,” Moore said Sunday. “I still have no idea why my daughter died. I can hardly put up a Christmas tree anymore because I remember Crystal saying, ‘No, mom, you have too much on that side.’”
Moore and her daughter, Brittany Johnson, still wake up every night between 1:15 a.m. and 2:45 a.m.
“Crystal was like a Barbie doll,” said friend Sarah Johnson. “She was always perfectly put together. She would have been a good mom and a good wife.”
“The happiest she ever was was the day she found out she was pregnant,” said Lisa Perkins.
Moore feels her deceased daughter would love seeing all the toddlers she adored with cupcake all over their mouths.
This year, that group included Daveigha Evans, Daven Evans, Kayleigh Hunt, Jaydien Hunt and Tiana Macon.
Johnson’s boyfriend, L.T. Funsch, brought a pink “Princess” balloon.
Everyone toasted Johnson with a cup of coconut rum.
Then, after singing “Happy Birthday,” all the balloons were set free to touch the sky.
“We hope one balloon will get to Crystal in heaven,” Moore said.
Flashes of light
The night Johnson died, Moore said it was over so fast. She remembers flashes of light as the guns blazed.
“Crystal was laying on the bathroom floor and her body was jerking,” Moore said. “The bullet had hit a wall and went into her chest sideways. If that hadn’t happened, it might have gone right through.”
A gunfight ensued between Funsch and the gunmen.
Funsch wounded Everrick J. Houston, as well as Houston’s accomplice, 22-year-old Gregory Kennon, according to reports. Houston, 29, was picked up about a half mile from the DeSoto Village Apartments and taken to the hospital where he told authorities a man had shot him.
Murder charges against Houston were dropped after a judge ruled that Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies improperly took his DNA from his bloodied clothes at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Prosecutors, however, said they plan to re-file murder charges once they are able to legally obtain Houston’s DNA.
Kennon is scheduled to go on trial in February, Moore said.
Houston still faces an armed burglary charge stemming from the home invasion.
In the meantime, he is in federal prison serving a six-year sentence for a cocaine-related conviction.
At least one suspect remains at large, according to authorities.
“If I could talk to Crystal I would say, ‘I love you. God, I miss you,’” Moore said Sunday. “I want you back. Life isn’t the same without you.’”
Anyone with any information on this case can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-TIPS (8477).
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.