Cooper City made national headlines on Saturday, October 21 as Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. Army soldiers killed during an ambush in Niger, was laid to rest at Christ the Rock Community Church on Stirling Road.
With hands on their hearts and American flags in hand, dozens of CCHS students and Cooper City residents lined up along the road to pay their respects to the fallen soldier as his casket, family and friends passed by the school during Johnson’s funeral procession.
Johnson’s death rose to national attention after Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens accused President Donald Trump of telling Johnson’s widow, 24-year old Myeshia Johnson, that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” and that he guessed “it still hurts anyway.” Wilson was in a limousine with the Johnson family during the phone call, which was on speakerphone. Johnson’s mother stood by Wilson’s claims and said that President Trump did disrespect her son. What followed was a public dispute that eventually moved to Twitter, where President Trump claimed that Wilson “totally fabricated” the content of the condolence call.
Cooper City Commissioner James Curran organized the participation of CCHS’ football and cheerleading teams in the funeral procession with the help of their coaches. Besides the presence of the sports teams, over 500 other students and Cooper City residents came together to pay tribute to Sgt. Johnson, including members of yearbook and band.
“I find out [about the procession] initially through social media; then our police department reached out to the [Rock Community] Church. At the same time, our commision office contacted the church and coordinated with them through the Broward Sheriff’s Office,” Curran said. “I was overwhelmed by the show of support, respect, unity and patriotism from the community.”
For the CCHS students, the procession was an emotional one.
“After the community heard about the tragedy, Coach [Brandon] Walker and the team thought it would be great to line up and give our support to his family,” football player Mark Brent said. Curran contacted Walker and quickly put together the event.
Yearbook photographer Juliette Polanco was on assignment to cover the procession that afternoon. Despite the cloudy skies and downpour of rain, she said, the atmosphere of the event was positive and respectful.
“While I was taking pictures of the people and the students, I saw how much the community came together,” she said. “People were passing out flags and kids were standing by their parents in the rain to show respect and to honor a hero from home.”
National reports said that over 1,000 people attended the private funeral just past the school, with “hundreds” forced to stand up due to lack of seating. Johnson was a longtime resident of Miami Gardens. His remains were transported to his burial site at Hollywood Memorial Gardens shortly after the funeral.
“Attendance at the processional wasn’t mandatory [for band], but we decided to all show up and pay our respects,” senior Karla Jimenez, a member of “The Sound of Pride,” said.
Featured photo by David Rosenfield