Celebrating Johnia Berry's Legacy Three Years After Her Death

By: Liz Tedone
By: Liz Tedone

Knoxville (WVLT) -- December 6th marked the third anniversary Johnia Berry's death.

She was 21 years old at the time, and had just moved to the area to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee.

The night, Johnia finished her shift at a jewelry store in West Town Mall and then went Christmas shopping before returning home to her Brendan Park apartment in West Knoxville.

Later that night she was roommate were stabbed during an apparent burglary.

Johnia ran out of her apartment to the neighbor's for help but she ended up collapsing in the breeze way.

Her roommate recovered from his injuries, but Johnia passed away.

Three months ago, Taylor Olson, 21 was charged with her murder.

He is awaiting trial behind bars.

Since her death, Johnia's legacy has lived on.

In July of this year, Governor Phil Bredesen signed a bill in her name.

The Johnia Berry Act now requires anyone arrested for a violent crime to give a DNA sample.

On the third anniversary of her death, Johnia's parents spent the day honoring their daughter by helping with a cause that was very special to her.

Johnia Berry had a passion for helping young children.

According to her mother, she would buy Christmas presents for those children in need every year.

That's exactly what she was doing just hours before she was murdered.

"She had been shopping and she sat in front of TV that evening and separated all the toys," said Joan Berry. "Her roommate said she would hold toys up and say 'what do you think about this for a 5 year old boy.'"

East Tennesseans now donate hundreds of toys in her honor, all to give hope for a happy holiday season.

Many are at the Farragut Christian Church, where toys for boys and girls are piled high and awaiting distribution.

“I know that she is smiling,” Joan said, “this is what she would like. This would make her happier I think than anything.”

In the past three years, the Berry's had more traditional ways of remembering Johnia's death and her birthday, but this year was a pivotal one for the family.

With the Johnia Berry Act of 2007 becoming law and a man charged with their daughter's murder behind bars, the Berry's say they want to move forward.

“I have a good feeling about this, it makes me happy to know that I can do something like this that would please her,” Joan said. “However this is a sad day for me and my family, this day will always be sad.”

Though the day is sad, the toy drive remains a wonderful tribute to the memory of Johnia Berry and a testament to the legacy she left behind.


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