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Pastor remembers Portage couple killed

Posted at 11:16 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 23:16:41-05

PORTAGE, Mich. — The pastor of the couple killed in Portage is remembering the Johnsons as loving and kind people. They continually advocated for their son, now considered a person of interest in the case, despite his mental health issues and previous convictions.

The Portage Department of Public Safety identified Monday the two bodies found in the Gourdneck State Game Area as Laura and Gary Johnson.

Officers first performed a welfare check at their home after Gary did not show up to work for several days. On Tuesday, investigators searched the couple's home, where they found "signs of violence." On Friday, their bodies were discovered.

The couple was deeply involved in their church, Word of Life Church of God based in Kalamazoo.

Pastor Jeff McNally described the Johnsons as having "impeccable character" who were loving and nurturing people. "They were always encouraging people," he said. "They always believe the best in folks, and they had their own struggles."

The Johnson's met in 3rd grade and were married for roughly 30 years.

"Gary was funny," said McNally. "He is one guy that knows more jokes than I know, and he's hilarious. He's a riot to be around, and Laura is such a loving and giving person So when you have them both together you have the best of both worlds."

Through the years, they were faithful to their only son, Nicholas, 27, despite his personal struggles with mental illness and criminal convictions. Laura would often write letters to the judge to advocate for more resources to help Nicholas overcome his mental health struggles.

"She was always advocating for a program for Nick, something to help his issue, not necessarily just punish him. She knew he needed help. She was not able to do so, and she was frustrated, heartbroken over it, but never gave up trying to get into some help."

McNally spoke with Nicholas Sunday night, and Nicholas reaffirmed during the conversation he didn't know what happened to his parents.

"I said Nick, if your mom and dad are in heaven, I know right now your mom is probably advocating to God on your behalf. So she loved you unconditionally, and she always had your best interest in mind," said McNally. "He's gonna have a long hard road ahead of him still."