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Newton neighbors honor domestic violence victim
Neighbors and Sheriff Ezell Brown prepare to release balloons in honor of domestic violence victims.

COVINGTON, Ga. — To her Spring Valley Estates neighbors, Diane Johnson and her husband lived a relatively quiet life for the past decade in their subdivision home south of Porterdale.

"They kept to themselves," said Dorothy Piedrahita. "I would have liked to have been on a friendly basis with them."

Gwen Harrison recalled her neighbor was always "come and go" and kept her vehicle in a garage with a door that always shut behind her. 

She said she saw Diane Johnson Aug. 21 and complimented her on the appearance of her front yard — one of many in the well-manicured neighborhood. 

"We talked about what beautiful flowers she had," Harrison said.

Harrison and Piedrahita spoke before a "gathering" of neighbors Saturday, Sept. 4, to honor Johnson, a Rockdale County schools nursing assistant who was shot and killed in her home a few steps from the two neighbors' homes recently. 

Her husband, Albert Johnson, 70, allegedly used a handgun to shoot and kill her in their home near the end of the cul-de-sac on Spring Valley Way. 

The suspect then traveled to the Savannah area where he reportedly turned himself in to Chatham County sheriff's deputies Aug. 28 — at about the same time a Newton County deputy discovered the crime described in an incident report as non-negligent or voluntary manslaughter in which a handgun was used.

Neighbors of the Johnsons gathered with Sheriff Ezell Brown Saturday night to honor Mrs. Johnson's life and acknowledge how widespread domestic abuse is in Georgia and Newton County. 

Piedrahita and others wore purple and brought purple balloons they and about 10 others later released to show support for Mrs. Johnson and all domestic violence victims.

Brown told the gathering statistics also show 68% of victims in family violence incidents reported to law enforcement were female in Georgia — though 39.9% of Georgia men had experienced physical violence, sexual violence or stalking from intimate partners.

He also said children were present during deaths following domestic violence in 42% of cases studied in Georgia.

"Domestic violence, not only does it affect one family, it affects the entire community," Brown said. "We're doing all we can to fight domestic violence."

According to the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, Georgia saw 136 die in domestic violence incidents in 2020 — ranking it 22nd in the nation for its rate of men killing women. That was a drop from 2019 when 166 died in domestic violence cases, ranking the state 10th in the U.S. 

More than 29,000 temporary protective orders were issued in 2019 alone, the Commission reported.

Piedrahita wore a shirt in support of Project ReNeWal, a domestic violence intervention program and shelter for victims that serves Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties. 

She said she is a former social worker and found that, "Sometimes, people will not ask for help."

However, she said if Albert Johnson is guilty of the crime he is "where he should be."

Another neighbor, Wanda Michaux, lived closer to the neighborhood entrance off Georgia Hwy. 162. She said she did not know the victim but wanted to show her support, as well.

She said this was the first time she had experienced anything like her neighbor's murder in Spring Valley Estates — though she had heard about such incidents while living on a military base in Guam.

"I don't feel like she deserved it," Michaux said. "It's just a shame."