Kentucky state Rep. Dan Johnson was buried Monday, several days after he killed himself in Bullitt County.
As friends and family gathered at the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville’s Fern Creek neighborhood, the front lawn became a parking lot to accommodate hundreds of Johnson’s mourners, many of whom rode in on motorcycles.
Johnson was the preacher at Heart of Fire, which has an orange sign out front proclaiming bikers are welcome. Next to it, another sign still carries the title of Johnson’s last planned sermon: “Satan Accuses God Says You’re Not Guilty.”
Frankie Debrino is a preacher who says he was a friend of Johnson’s.
“It’s not easy being a preacher, we all get persecuted, every one of us,” he said. “But people say the wrong things so whatever happened, happened. Remember once you accept Christ, you repent of your sins. He’s in heaven so I don’t believe those allegations against him. It’s all false.”
Last week, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published an extensive profile of Johnson, who was a Republican representative from Bullitt County.
The article included accusations from a woman who said Johnson sexually assaulted her in the basement of Heart of Fire’s fellowship hall after a New Year’s party when she was 17 years-old. It also cast doubts on Johnson’s credentials, and his tales of decades of heroics.
Johnson denied the accusations in a press conference with his friends and family held at the church.
The next day, he posted an apparent suicide note on Facebook that described KyCIR’s report as “fake news” and calling on conservatives to “take a stand.”
Hours later Johnson was found dead next to a bridge crossing the Salt River in Bullitt County, killed by what the coroner described as a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Johnson was a freshman member of the state legislature. He was first elected in 2016 as part of a wave that gave Republicans control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century.
Rep. Robby Mills is a Republican from Henderson and attended the funeral. He’s another freshman lawmaker and shared an office suite with Johnson.
“I knew him for the last year and he was a dedicated guy,” Mills said. “Loved everybody that he came in contact with. That’s why I’m here to express my condolences to the family.”
But in the two days between the KyCIR report and Johnson’s death, both the Republican Party of Kentucky and Republican leaders of the House were calling for Johnson to resign his seat.
And even before the sexual assault allegations, Johnson drew headlines. During his campaign he posted racist pictures and comments on his Facebook, portraying Barack and Michelle Obama as monkeys.
The Republican Party of Kentucky called for him to suspend his campaign, but he ended up beating the Democratic incumbent by fewer than 200 votes.
During his first year as a lawmaker, Johnson proposed legislation dealing with religious freedom and had pre-filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would totally ban abortion in the state.
In recent interviews, Johnson’s widow Rebecca has blamed news organizations for covering the allegations against her husband. And she says she plans to run for the House district Dan Johnson used to represent.
On Monday, family members barred reporters from the funeral. The only outlet allowed in was WDRB, the local Fox affiliate.
R.Z. Miller, a friend of Johnson’s and pastor from Spirit of Peace Missionary Baptist Church, said members of Johnson’s family led the service.
“To see his talented children express themselves through music and to do the things they did and then to see such a staunch woman like Rebecca to speak as she spoke. To have the presence of so many people,” he said. “And then the spirit of the Lord was there.”
After the funeral, Rebecca Johnson sat on the back of a motorcycle driven by her son Judah. They led a funeral procession that included scores of bikers following the hearse carrying Johnson’s casket from Heart of Fire to a cemetery in Mt. Washington.
This story was written by Ryland Barton of Kentucky Public Radio.