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‘Everyone’s mother’ found dead in South L.A. home after being bound and gagged

Fatima Johnson stands outside her family's home in South Los Angeles in 2020.
Fatima Johnson stands outside her family’s home in South Los Angeles in 2020.
(Courtesy of Mia Daniels)

Shalonda Madison was eager to speak with her sister. The two were ironing out details for a memorial celebration for their mother, who had died of COVID-19.

But calls to Fatima Johnson kept going to voicemail on Friday.

The following day, Madison’s nieces contacted her asking whether she’d heard from their mother. They too were having trouble getting in touch with Johnson. They hadn’t heard or seen her in several days, and she hadn’t been to work or responded to their text messages. She was a no-show at her mother’s celebration of life that morning.

By Saturday night, Johnson’s family was frantic. They went to her home in the 7600 block of South Western Avenue in South Los Angeles and made a gruesome discovery.

“She was wrapped in a sheet, tied up,” Madison said. “Duct tape over her mouth, and she had wire around her hands. She was bound and hog-tied, so they cut her loose.”

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Los Angeles police were called to the Manchester Square neighborhood around midnight and found Johnson’s body covered with blankets. Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics pronounced Johnson dead at the scene, according to a news release.

The coroner’s office has not yet determined the cause of death, but one of her daughters, Tyesha Harvey, said Johnson had been strangled.

“What happened to my mother is something that no child should ever see of their parent,” Harvey said Tuesday.

The July 4 weekend saw a spike in violence, with a dozen people killed in L.A. and several in surrounding communities.

The gruesome death came as a shock to family and friends who described Johnson as “bubbly” and with “a smile that lit up the darkest room.”

Johnson was a little over a week away from celebrating her 54th birthday. The mother of six was studying to be a licensed vocational nurse at Westchester College of Nursing and Allied Health in Los Angeles. She was halfway through her program.

A natural caregiver, Johnson worked at a retirement home in South L.A. while juggling classes, her niece Mia Daniels said.

“I told her, ‘Aunty, you can’t work that much,’ ” Daniels said. "[But she said], ‘I like taking care of people. [It’s] not even work for me.’ ”

Even when not working, Johnson found ways to take care of people.

Blair McMurray, a Gardena resident, met Johnson about five years ago in a 12-step program. The two didn’t really interact, but one day, he said Johnson bumped into him on the street and they connected.

When he stopped showing up at meetings, she noticed and called him on it. McMurray said after he got sober, the two hung out a lot.

“She was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “She was really loveable and had this charisma.”

Johnson’s death comes amid an especially violent weekend in Los Angeles County. Between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, the LAPD recorded 12 killings, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department reported at least four others.

Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a suspect in Johnson’s death, LAPD Officer Pat Farmer said. Her 2008 Lexus as well as her jewelry and phone were missing from the home, Madison said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Brian Smith or Farmer at (323) 786-5113. During nonbusiness hours or weekends, calls can be made to (877) 527-3247. Those who wish to be anonymous can call (800) 222-8477.

Meanwhile, Madison now has another memorial service she must plan. This time it’s for her sister, whom Harvey described as “everyone’s mother.”

“She was the ‘hood mother to everyone,” her daughter said. “She always put out a life jacket for those drowning.”

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.


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