A somber ceremony was held Thursday on the one-year anniversary of the death of San Jose police officer Michael Johnson, who was while responding to a call of a suicidal man who opened fire on responding officers.
The gathering at the Great Oaks Parkway police substation was marked by politicians, family members and a cadre of officers who paid tribute at a mockup sign for the newly named "San Jose Police Officer Michael Johnson Memorial Highway."
In September, the California Legislature passed a resolution to dedicate a portion of northbound Highway 87 at the Capitol Expressway exit and the southbound Highway 87 near the Interstate 280 interchange to Johnson. That's where Johnson liked to bike as a kid with his mom, Katherine Decker, who knew they were "breaking the law" by riding along the highway under construction in the 1990s.
"It was great," Decker said Thursday at the service. "Riding on the freeway. Mom and son time. It was really awesome. It will be very emotional every time I see that sign."
Johnson was the 12th police officer to be killed in the department's 166-year history.
The 38-year-old husband, who left behind his widow, Nicole, or "Nikki," was killed March 24, 2015 when he arrived to an apartment complex on Senter Road to help a man who was despondent, suicidal and threatening to harm himself and others, police said.
When Johnson arrived, 57-year-old Scott Dunham took out a rifle and killed Johnson from his balcony. Dunham's family later said the retired college gardener suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression and alcoholism.
Thursday's tribute was both rewarding and difficult for Decker.
"I feel very honored and blessed, but sometimes these can be very hard and emotional for us," she said.
In Santa Clara, another tribute was held Thursday for Johnson and other police officers statewide who died in the line of duty over the last year. The group ASIS International also at the tribute offered heroism honors to officer who symbolize bravery.
Sean Graham is a San Bruno police officer who received a heroism honor for risking his life to rescue a shooting victim.
"We do put ourselves in jeopardy, sometimes knowing, sometimes not knowing," Graham said. "The ultimate goal is to help somebody and make it home safe."
Meanwhile, Johnson's widow will remember his heroism and sacrifices each time she sees the signs.
"I'm so proud that I get to drive down every day and see the highway signs," Nicole said.
According to his obituary in the Mercury News, Johnson was the son of a former Army police officer, David Johnson, who later worked for the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department. After his parents divorced, he moved to South San Jose with his mother, Katherine Decker, and his sister in 1988.
Johnson joined the San Jose Police Academy in 2001, working for 14 years as a patrolman, court liaison and prescription drug fraud specialist. At the time of his death, his family said he had been promoted to field training officer, assigned to the covert response unit.
Friends and colleagues described Johnson as an officer with "Yoda"-like knowledge, who could bake a mean cheesecake, became a jiu-jitsu sensei, loved his family and "did everything big," his sister Jamie Radack said at his funeral in April 2015.