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'I got you' are man's last words to co-worker as bullets fly in San Bernardino rampage

As bullets rained down during the San Bernardino shooting rampage, Shannon Johnson, 45, wrapped his left arm around 27-year-old Denise Peraza and held her close.

"I got you," Johnson told her.

Peraza was shot once in the back and survived.

Johnson died. 

Peraza, who is recovering from her injuries, shared her story of survival Saturday with reporters to honor Johnson.

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The two were seated next to each other Wednesday morning at a training and Christmas holiday luncheon for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, joking about how they "thought the large clock on the wall might be broken because time seemed to be moving so slowly."

Minutes later, the two huddled next to each other under the same table, using a fallen chair as a shield from 65 to 75 rounds of bullets being fired from across the room, she wrote in an email that was sent to the Los Angeles Times.

In earlier interviews, friends and family members said Peraza had told them that the doors of a conference room opened and two people dressed all in black wearing black face masks entered with "big ol' guns" and started shooting randomly.

Everyone dropped to the floor.

“While I cannot recall every single second that played out that morning, I will always remember his left arm wrapped around me, holding me as close as possible next to him behind that chair,” Peraza said in a statement.

Peraza described a terrifying scene earlier to her relatives.

“Everyone dropped to the floor,” Peraza said. “The guys opened fire for 30 seconds, randomly, then paused to reload and began firing again.”

She had told family members that she was shot once in the lower back before the shooters were gone, and everything was silent for about five minutes. Then suddenly, the doors were pushed opened again, but this time, it was law enforcement officers. Lots of them, and they yelled out: "Anyone who can move, leave immediately and find cover behind vehicles."

Peraza said they were then helped into the beds of pickups and taken to a safer location.

Johnson, an environmental health specialist, loved to collect images, friends and family said.

He had them tattooed on much of his body: one of his first wife; another of each of his grandfathers; and one of his dad, who died in a grain silo accident in Georgia when Johnson was a boy. He was planning to get another soon of his girlfriend, Mandy Pifer.

The couple had been together for three years, she said, and had recently decided to get married.

Johnson’s Koreatown apartment was a museum to his life.

Framed concert posters lined the living room walls, and a collage of business cards hung above the toilet. They were mostly from truck stops — mementos from his days as an 18-wheel driver, before he finished college and settled into a job with the Department of Public Health in San Bernardino County, Pifer said.

Johnson — a Christian who, Pifer said, dabbled in Hinduism — loved the department for its diversity, and often recounted friendly conversations about religion with Syed Rizwan Farook, a fellow restaurant inspector and one of the shooters.

In Saturday’s statement, Peraza included an image of Johnson, smiling gently behind sunglasses and a beard.

“This is Shannon Johnson, who will be deeply missed by all. This is Shannon Johnson. My friend, my hero,” she wrote.

Peraza's sister Stephanie Rose Baldwin posted on Facebook that Johnson helped save her sister's life.

“This angel of a man was sitting next to my sister when the shooting happened,” she wrote. “He helped protect her from the bullets and we are so grateful for his heroic love.”

Below is Peraza's full statement:

Wednesday morning at 10:55 a.m. we were seated next to each other at a table, joking about how we thought the large clock on the wall might be broken because time seemed to be moving so slowly.

I would have never guessed that only 5 minutes later, we would be huddled next to each other under the same table, using a fallen chair as a shield from over 60 rounds of bullets being fired across the room.

While I cannot recall every single second that played out that morning, I will always remember his left arm wrapped around me, holding me as close as possible next to him behind that chair.

And amidst all the chaos, I’ll always remember him saying these three words, “I got you.”

I believe I am still here today because of this amazing man. This amazing, selfless man who always brought a smile to everyone’s face in the office with his lively stories about his hometown back in Georgia.

This is Shannon Johnson, who will be deeply missed by all. This is Shannon Johnson. My friend, my hero.

Times staff writers Louis Sahagun and Alan Zarembo contributed to this report.

sarah.parvini@latimes.com | Twitter: @sarahparvini

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com | Twitter: @theCindyCarcamo

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