Pennsylvania father seeks answers after son dies following alleged game of tag

ByDavi Merchan ABCNews logo
Thursday, May 2, 2024
What happened to Justin Johnson: Father seeks answers after son dies following alleged game of tag
A Pennsylvania father is seeking answers after his teen son died on Friday night after an alleged game of tag, the father told ABC News.

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pennsylvania -- A Pennsylvania father is seeking answers after his teen son died on Friday night after allegedly being chased by other teens who had come to his home and asked him to play a game of tag, the father told ABC News.

Orville Johnson told ABC News that his son, Justin Johnson, had sickle cell disease and he understood that because of his condition, the teen could not run or exert too much energy because it could "cost him his life if he has to do anything like that."

"He was so special," Johnson said of his son, who would have turned 17 on Tuesday. "I'd do everything in my life to make sure he can live a good life, and they took him away from me."

The Dauphin County coroner ruled Justin Johnson died of natural causes from complications of sickle cell disease, also listing cardiomyopathy as a significant contributor, local ABC affiliate WHTM reported Tuesday.

Around 8:20 p.m. on Friday, the 16-year-old was at home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when a group of four teenagers went over to his house. As one of the teens rang the doorbell holding what appears to be a toy gun, another teen called Johnson, asking him to "come outside," home security videos provided to ABC News show.

During the call and while standing in Johnson's lawn, the teen tells Johnson, "Justin, I see you in the window," and to "come out."

Orville Johnson was notified by the home security system that someone was outside the door, which prompted him to let his son know someone was at the door, Orville told ABC News.

"[Justin] called me and said "Dad, they didn't want to chase nobody but me and I had to run fast, fast away to come home, run away from them and come home," Johnson said.

About an hour later, Orville Johnson finished work and called his son, but the calls went unanswered. Upon getting home about 30 minutes later, he noticed his son's phone on the counter. As he stretched to grab the phone, he noticed Justin on his stomach on the ground.

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Orville Johnson then called 911, a dispatcher instructed him to perform CPR until help arrived. The teen was then taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.

Nick Johnson, a lawyer representing the family, told ABC News that the teens were first seen coming to Justin Johnson's home on Monday night while both father and teen were home. Justin Johnson came out and briefly spoke to one of the teens before going back to the basement of the house, where he'd been with his dad before the teens arrived.

Remembering the incident, Orville Johnson reviewed his video surveillance footage from that night and noticed the teens had been hiding in an area where they couldn't be seen when answering the door.

"They're trying to lure him to come outside and Justin didn't want to take part of it on Monday," Nick Johnson said. "Then on Friday, after Mr. Johnson called him and told him 'Listen, your friends are outside,' Justin gives in and he goes with them."

Nick Johnson said that the teen, who had moved to the United States from Jamaica in January 2023, wanted to make friends and fit in socially.

Home security video from Friday night shows Justin Johnson ultimately coming out of his home to play with the group. One of the videos shows Johnson running down an embankment on the side of his home and hiding as he was being chased by the teens.

"What we're hoping for is a full and thorough investigation by law enforcement to find out exactly what happened," Nick Johnson said.

"What precipitated this event, what led to Justin running away from these folks as if he was scared for his life going down this embankment and tried to hide from them? Those are the questions that we're asking," Nick Johnson said. "And we hope we can get answers to those questions."

Sgt. Autumn Lupey with the Lower Paxton Police Department's Criminal Investigation Section confirmed to ABC News on Tuesday the department is investigating the incident. In a statement posted on their website Monday, the police asked anyone with information regarding the incident to contact them.

"There is not one person on Earth that I know that knows Justin that doesn't want to have a conversation with Justin," Orville Johnson said, remembering his son.