BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It was a painful day for family and friends of Demetrius Johnson Sr., as the 24-year-old was laid to rest Friday, exactly one week after he charged into his burning home twice to save his children.
Services at St. John Baptist Church were at times somber and uplifting; but at all times spiritual and supporting — exactly what this family says they needed after tragedy struck on Humber Avenue.
“Honestly, I couldn’t comprehend it,” said Lequita Hanesworth, Demetrius’ sister. “I got the phone call from my sister, and she was telling me that my brother went in to get his son and didn’t come back out.”
Demetrius, his wife Tempest and their children were asleep when fire broke out at their Humber Avenue home one week ago.
After ensuring Tempest and their youngest child were safe outside, Demetrius ventured back inside, first to rescue 8-year-old Treasure Brighon. Then he returned to the flames to grab 3-year-old Demetrius, Jr.
His son in his arms, Demetrius made it to the front of the house before he collapsed, overcome by smoke. Firefighters then rushed into to save the boy. The cause of the fire remained undetermined Friday.
“That the kind of guy he was,” said Demetrius’ sister-in-law Gwendolyn Taylor. “He would’ve never stood there and watch the house burned down with his kids in there. He would’ve never done that. He would’ve done this 1000 times. There’s no doubt in my mind.
At the Goodell Street church on Friday, followers used words like courage, character and compassion to describe Demetrius Sr. They stood before the open casket in embrace and reflection, offering support and condolences to one another; maybe a favorite memory or two of the man they called “Meech.”
“I think it’s important to bring people up in that kind of time,” Hanesworth said. “You don’t want to keep everybody crying and sobbing. You want to uplift them with things he did and his character.”
But more than any other word, was the label on which his memory will live: Hero.
“The fact that I can say that my brother did that, that makes me feel so good to be able to say my brother, Demetrius Johnson, died a hero,” she said.
And that’s the legacy that will live on, in the children that he saved.
“They love their daddy,” Taylor said. “They haven’t spent a day without their daddy. So, it’s going to be a little hard, but we’ll make it through.”
The family is accepting donations for the continued care of Treasure Brighon at Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati. All future contributions can be sent to any First Niagara Bank. Donations are to be made in the name of The Demetrius T. Johnson, Jr. Fund.