John Hyslop described his friend Mark Johnson, who was shot and killed by Montpelier Police on Friday, as a kind, timid person who hated crowds and battled mental illness.
Hyslop said he would often drive Johnson to fast-food restaurants where they would enjoy a meal. But if there were more than just a couple customers inside, Hyslop said his friend’s fear of sharing space with groups of people kept them from leaving the car.
“We’d have to use the drive-thru,” Hyslop said.
Johnson, 62, was shot and killed on the Spring Street bridge by Montpelier Police around 5:15 a.m. Friday.
Police said Johnson raised what looked like a pistol at officers, and wouldn’t put it down when ordered. A Montpelier officer at the scene, armed with his patrol rifle, opened fire, striking and killing Johnson, police said.
The weapon Johnson had been holding was later identified as a Daisy Powerline pellet gun.
News of the shooting left many residents of the 60-unit Pioneer Apartments complex where Johnson lived in disbelief, struggling to square the details of the shooting with the respectful person they knew and saw every day.
One of his friends said he believed that Johnson may have simply frozen, while another thought he might have panicked during the encounter with police.
The incident that led to the fatal shooting began with another tenant calling police to report Johnson trying to pick the lock into his unit with a knife. Some residents said he had previously used a knife to get into his own apartment when he forgot his keys.
Johnson lived in the apartment building adjacent to the Main Street roundabout in Montpelier for many years, according to those who knew him, and his fatal shooting on the bridge took place a short distance away on the Spring Street bridge.
Many residents of the apartment complex stood Friday on the lawn and in the parking lot, talking about the man they knew, the details of his death and watching police investigate the fatal scene across the roundabout.
Several spoke of knowing Johnson by his morning routine of getting up earlier in the morning, often before the crack of dawn, and going to local shops in search of a coffee.
Hyslop said Johnson’s mental health issue left him unable to work.
Police said law enforcement agencies in Barre and Montpelier had three interactions with Johnson in June. All dealt with mental health issues, and none led to criminal charges, according to police.
Robbie Hackett said he often talked with Johnson outside the building where he would often smoke cigarettes.
“Mark, he was a really nice guy,” Hackett said. “I’ve lived here five years and when I moved here he was one of the first people I met.”
He described Johnson as gentle person, who would often keep to himself, apart from a group of friends in the building.
“I wish I could have done more to help him,” Hackett said.
Another resident, who didn’t want to be named, called Johnson, “a good, caring, gentle soul who didn’t have a bad bone in his body.”
The man said he recalled often seeing Johnson, who lived down the hall from him, waving at him from the other side of the building.
Johnson was more cautious than timid, the man said, adding that once he got to know a person he was more comfortable being around them.
Hyslop said he tried to help Johnson with shopping, but getting him to go inside a place as big and busy as Walmart was nearly impossible due to the crowds.
He said Johnson was a person who followed routines, and if there was a change it would be hard for him to adjust.
“It would throw him right off,” Hyslop said.
He added that he was “enraged” that his “gentle,” “non-violent” friend was shot to death by police.
“If he can’t safely walk the streets of Montpelier,” Hyslop said, “nobody can.”
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