Saturday, April 23, 2005

Questions haunt friends
of Big Isle slaying victim

Many people gather in Hilo
to remember Arman Johnson

HILO » Arman Johnson's friends are calling his death an execution. The reason for it is a mystery.

Some of them knew he used drugs from time to time. But drugs alone don't explain the murder of a man loved by so many, they feel.

About 100 friends met in Hilo on Thursday evening for a "potluck gathering" to remember Johnson, 44, a massage therapist found shot to death on the southern edge of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park April 13.

Another gathering was scheduled for 10 a.m. today at Solid Rock Ministries in Kona.

"Everybody loved him," retired police Sgt. Samson Wana said Thursday. "He could meet you today and you would end up liking him."

One of the places Johnson stayed after he arrived on the Big Island in 1984 was Wana's home, five years one time, followed by a period in Kona, then five years a second time, all rent free.

For the past several years, Johnson had been living in Kona, working as a massage therapist at a resort. He also worked as an aide to autistic children, according to a newspaper notice placed by friends.

"We kind of knew he was into drugs," Wana said. "My wife used to ream him inside out." When he spoke on the phone, the influence of the drugs could be head in his voice. Wana's wife demanded Johnson come to Hilo to kick the drugs.

A friend of Wana saw Johnson in Kona on April 11, two days before his body was found. Johnson said he was going "home" to Wana's house.

"We're still trying to figure out why this happened," Wana said.

"It's a mystery. It really is," said Hilo native Steve Bader, who met Johnson at college in Washington state and invited him to Hilo in 1984.

Johnson talked in a loud voice. "You could hear him across the room," said Bill Stormont, who works for the University of Hawaii on Mauna Kea.

But he wasn't aggressive. "To put it bluntly, he couldn't fight his way out of a paper sack," Wana said.

Johnson stayed in Bader's mother's home for four years. "He wasn't homeless. I run a homeless agency on the island. I know what the profile is. Arman wasn't the profile."

Johnson had a bachelor's degree in sports medicine, he said.

Retired police Inspector Leroy Victorine met Johnson when Victorine's son played football at Hilo High in the 1980s and Johnson was a volunteer athletic trainer there. "He was good. He knew his stuff," Victorine said.

The high school kids called him "Fu Fu Hair" or "Foof" because of his African-American hair. When local people give someone a nickname, that means he has been accepted, Bader said.

Many people have told Bader that Johnson came to the home of a dying relative and massaged that person for hours, week after week. "He didn't charge a dime," Bader said.

In 1987-89, Johnson had a weekend radio show on KWXX, introducing the Hilo audience to reggae music, said station newsman John Burnett. "He had a magic personality. Everybody liked him," Burnett said.

Fellow KWXX newsman Ken Hupp said the single bullet that killed Johnson suggested there was no struggle. "The man was executed," he said.

"He was very trusting," said biologist Julie Leialoha, who described herself as Johnson's hanai or adoptive sister. "This was a senseless act."

Johnson was found near Highway 11, his old, beat-up car nowhere around, leaving Wana wondering what happened to it.

"We're aware of the car issue," said FBI spokesman Tony Lang. The FBI has "hundreds" of leads, is conducting interviews, and is following up on evidence at the scene, he said.

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