Jon Johnson

Some of the winners of this year's SFBAPPA's 32nd Annual News Photo and Television Competition will be donating their prize money to the family of freelance photographer John “Jon” R. Johnson, who was killed on Saturday in Elk Grove.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. on Monday at Sacramento Central Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 6045 Camellia Ave., Sacramento. Just off Highway 50 off of Howe and Fair Oaks Blvd., near Sacramento State University.

Condolences can be sent to:
Karen Johnson
c/o Velma Wilson (friend of family)
3917 Bristlewood Way
Sacramento, CA 95823

Velma Wilson, who has been acting as spokeswoman, can be reached at 916.825.5189

By Robert D. Davila
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

John R. Johnson succeeded as a freelance cameraman in the competitive world of broadcast news with a keen eye for stories, a warm smile and a soft spot in his heart for needed children.

He was an eyewitness to major news events as a photojournalist for more than two decades at Northern California television stations. He mingled with NBA players and made high-profile connections as a camera operator at Sacramento Kings games for Maloof Sports & Entertainment.

But his passion was bringing attention to the smallest people in crisis. He helped start the Assist One Foundation, a charity established to film personal stories about children waiting for adoption. He wanted to tour the Gulf Coast to report on children orphaned by Hurricane Katrina. His biggest dream was to travel to Africa to document the devastation of AIDS on children there.

Johnson was working on plans to go to Botswana this spring when he was killed in a shooting spree Saturday in Elk Grove that left three others wounded, including the gunman. He was 46.

“John just loved kids” his wife Karen Johnson said in an interview at their Elk Grove home Monday. “His mission was to tell people about children who need somebody. His motto was: There are no unwanted children, only unfound families.”

The slaying stunned colleagues in the TV industry, who mourned a dedicated coworker and cheerful, fun-loving friend, Johnson, who also spelled his first name “Jon” sometimes worked on staff but mostly enjoyed the nomadic independence of a freelance cameraman whose skilled were always in demand at local stations, including Sacramento and Bay Area broadcasters. He freelanced most recently to KMAX and KTXL in Sacramento and Bay Area station KTVU.

He was a “huge sports fan” who enjoyed Kings games and always wore a Denver Broncos hat, Channel 40 (KTXL) sports director Jim Crandell said. Johnson, who played football in high school and college, expertly anticipated game plays and camera angles, Crandell said.

Others recalled a gregarious co-worker who frequently lightened the stress of deadlines with booming laughter and a warm smile. Many said Johnson was a generous veteran who frequently took newcomers under his wing, offering tips on everything from camera angles to career moves.

“I'm a new photographer here, and he was good to me and very helpful,” Channel 19 (KUVS) camera operator Felix Mendoza said.

Born in 1960, Johnson was raised by sharecroppers in a blended family of 112 children in Helena, Ark. His father died when he was 12, and his family eventually moved to California and settled in Oakland. His family said he attended several Northern California colleges and earned a bachelor's degree in radio-TV-film.

He worked at several TV stations in Northern California, covering general assignments and sports. He polished his skills with a variety of tasks, including camera operator and truck engineer.

“When you're at a little tiny TV Station, everybody has to work closely and pitch in,” said Meslissa Chacon, a Channel 3 (KCRA) assignments editor who worked with Johnson at a NBC affiliate in Chico. “He was just this happy, happy man who loved his work and would do anything.”

By the time he came to Sacramento in the mid-1990s, Johnson largely had established a successful freelance career. He gained lifelong friends while working for almost every station in Sacramento. He also covered the Kings for 16 years as a camera operator.

“He used to be at practically every game,” team owner Joe Maloof said, recalling Johnson as “nice, soft-spoken. Just always smiling.”

Meanwhile,, Johnson pursued his passion for helping children in need of adoption or foster homes. He was inspired by help young people by his own childhood experiences of poverty and losing his father, his wife said.

He helped launch the Assist One Foundation, which raised money to film profiles of orphans. The charity produced several stories but ran into a roadblock over confidentiality issues, Karen Johnson said.

Most recently, Johnson turned to attention helping the smallest victims of Hurricane Katrina and AIDS in Africa.

“He would see teenagers and children in trouble with drugs or prostitution when he was working, and it really hurt his heart,” Karen Johns said. “He really just wanted every child to be wanted, loved and cared for.”

Survived by his wife, Karen Johnson of Elk Grove; daughter, Tanneria Johnson of Grand Junction, Colo.; son Johnny Ray Johnson Jr. of Susanville; stepson, Tristan Gardner, of Elk Grove; mother Florestine Johnson of Oakland and sister, Lula Johnson of Oakland.

Special thanks to Mark Morris, of the Sacramento Bee.

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