McLouth Cheyenne Vroman remembers Justin Johnston being a friend who looked out for people.
They were friends in middle school where he attended classes in Lansing. They had lost touch but reconnected through Facebook. They talked about getting together upon his return from Costa Rica on a Spanish Club trip at McLouth High School.
But Johnston, 16, died early Thursday morning, the victim of an overnight shooting while on the trip.
“He was my best friend,” Vroman said of their days in Lansing. “No matter what was going on in his life, he could always cheer you up.”
Vroman found out through Facebook that Johnston died while in Costa Rica.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I looked on his wall. Oh my gosh. I just started bawling.”
Vroman said Johnston always was a “jokester,” but not at another’s expense.
She recalled a time when someone purposely knocked a fellow student’s books out of her hands. Johnston was there to help pick up the books.
“He wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he thought was right,” Vroman said.
Mathew Horton, who was in the same class as Johnston, will be a junior in the fall at McLouth, said Johnston was one of his closest friends since seventh grade.
“It’s just indescribable what happened to him,” Horton said. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
A prayer vigil took place Thursday evening at the McLouth United Methodist Church, which is across the street from McLouth High School.
More than 350 people attended the vigil, many writing messages on a large piece of thick paper that spanned a lengthy table near the church’s entrance.
Jeri Holwick, who competed on the school’s power lifting team with Johnston and graduated in May, referred to her teammate as a “real cool guy” who always could make her laugh.
Cameron Humerickhouse, another close friend, echoed that sentiment.
“He knew how to put a smile on everyone’s faces, even if you were his best friend or a stranger,” said Humerickhouse, who will be an MHS senior in the fall. “He’d come up and talk to you and make a joke and make your day a lot better. I’m gonna miss him a lot.”
According to a report from the Costa Rican newspaper The Nation, a guard at the hotel where the Spanish Club group was staying shot Johnston. The shooting took place at 4 a.m.
The group was staying at the La Cangreja Lodge hotel in La Fortuna de San Carlos, according to the report, and student chaperones were staying in separate rooms from the young men and women they were accompanying.
“During the night, the boys left the rooms they were checked in to, and when they returned, apparently, so as not to attract the attention of security guards, they came close to a barbed-wire fence belonging to an adjoining property, but a dog startled them when it began to bark,” the newspaper report said.
Police said the guard shot into the air, which frightened the boys even more, sending them running toward the hotel. The guard, according to the report, was frightened, thinking he was being attacked, and mistook Johnston for a thief. He shot, fatally wounding Johnston.
It was reported that the weapon, a .22 caliber pistol, was not registered. The security guard, who was identified as a 34-year-old man by the last name of Guevara, has been detained, Costa Rican police said, and the shooting is still under investigation.
In addition, the school district continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.
District officials are working with the United States Embassy in Costa Rica and the U.S. State Department to gather accurate information as it becomes available.
The trip to Costa Rica was the first for the Spanish Club and its sponsors. The students on the trip are in Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 classes at the school.
The trip was arranged through EF Educational Tours based in Cambridge, Mass.
No other students were injured.
The group arrived Monday for the nine-day trip, but returned safely Friday evening, the district announced in a release Saturday. Counselors were made available to the students and staff upon their return.