NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Debra Johnson’s family gathered at her mother’s home Saturday, as reports came in that authorities were one step closer to closing in on her accused killer.

“Why did you have to do this to our mother?” Mychal Austin, Johnson’s son, said, clutching his grandmother’s hand. That lingering question is the reason the Johnson family wants Curtis Watson captured alive.

“I need to know why because she didn’t deserve that,” her daughter, Dr. Shernaye Johnson said.

Since News4 last spoke with Johnson’s children, more details have surfaced about the brutal way her life was taken. “It’s hard to know she was murdered in the capacity she was,” Shernaye said. “The details don’t matter to me matter to me because at the end of the day my mama is gone,” Austin said.

As they wait for the small piece of closure in the form of Watson’s capture, life without their beloved mother begins to come into focus. “She's not going to be able to see things like me married and see my grandchildren,” Austin said, holding back tears. “[Shernaye] has a kindergarten daughter. She was just so excited about hearing about her first day of kindergarten on Monday.” “it’s going to be hard,” Shernaye added. 

Their mother dedicated her life to her prisoners, and although it is a prisoner who is accused of taking it from her, her children want her belief in all people to live on. “She really loved them as human beings… it wasn’t all of them. It’s him, and he needs to be brought to justice.”

Funeral arrangements for Debra Johnson, Tennessee Department of Correction Administrator, have been finalized.

Visitation will be held Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, 3:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m., at 15th Avenue Baptist Church, 1203 9th Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37208.

Visitation will be held Friday, Aug. 16, 2019, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., and the Funeral Service will be held at 12:00 p.m. at The Temple Church, 3810 Kings Lane, Nashville, TN 37218. is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, 4WARN weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from News4 Nashville.

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Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Rebecca Cardenas is a Murrow-award winning journalist who joined News4 as a reporter in September 2017. She currently covers the court systems in Middle Tennessee.

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