During Army days, Dallas shooter was a mediocre marksman

AP News
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Posted: Jul 15, 2016 1:57 AM

DALLAS (AP) — Micah Johnson was a mediocre marksman, seemingly more interested in eliciting laughs from friends in his Army Reserve unit than in honing his infantry skills, former squad members say.

But the young black man showed striking tactical acumen in the deftly choreographed assault that killed five police officers in downtown Dallas last week during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

Such was his skill that police thought multiple snipers were attacking. Moving stealthily in body armor, Johnson displayed textbook tactics, taking cover behind columns, skirting the line of fire, assaulting rather than retreating after his initial volleys.

"He kept the police at bay and was able to flank an officer during an assault, a tactic that he was trained on," said Retired Army Sgt. Gilbert Fischbach, Johnson's former squad leader in Texas. "He certainly had enthusiasm and motivation that he never had while I was training him."

Fischbach and other former comrades were stunned to learn that it was Johnson who pulled off the attack in revenge for police killings of black men. The popular, happy-go-lucky friend they remembered as cultivating many colorblind friendships had become a police-killer whose own life was taken by a robot-delivered bomb.

Some who knew him say Johnson was never the same after his best friend in the 284th Engineer Company filed a sexual harassment complaint against him in Afghanistan in 2014. Accused of stealing the female soldier's dirty panties, he was disarmed, placed under 24-hour escort and sent home early, his aspirations to a military career over.

The Mississippi-born Johnson, whose parents divorced in 1996 when he was 5, had dreamed as a boy of being a police officer or a soldier, relatives said.

Friends and acquaintances described him to The Associated Press as a gregarious, even "goofy" extrovert — a far cry from the man authorities described as a loner and President Barack Obama called "demented."

Fischbach said most of Johnson's Army Reserve friends were white, and he never showed any signs of racial dissension.

He was not bookish, preferring Xbox to academics. Johnson graduated in the lower fifth of his high school class and withdrew from community college in 2011, three weeks after registering for classes.

One friend, Justin Garner, recalled seeing a dark side to Johnson when Johnson called asking to be picked up at a party. Johnson said he got into an argument and was afraid he might hurt someone, Garner said.

No one saw it coming, Fischbach said, when Johnson was caught stealing the panties of the female squad mate who had been his buddy.

Fischbach thought the "betrayal" revealed "something deeply rooted in him that was wrong."

In her complaint, the woman sought a protective order and asked that Johnson receive "mental help" but neither apparently happened. Johnson got an honorable discharge in April 2015, according to the attorney who handled the case, Bradford Glendening.

Johnson was deeply changed when he returned home, his mother Delphene Johnson told TheBlaze, a news site founded by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.

His father, James, said he "became a loner" and "didn't like people."

By April 2015, Johnson was joining protests over apparently unprovoked police killings of black men and showing interest in black nationalist groups.

He visited the Dallas-based Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which has carried out armed citizen patrols of Dallas neighborhoods, and met the owner of the city's Pan-African Connection Bookstore. The people he talked with in both places said he seemed polite and level-headed.

Johnson's father recalled talking to his son about police brutality and his son's distrust of white cops. But neither parent recalled him ever talking about killing police officers.

"My message to him," his father said in TheBlaze interview, "was that there's good and bad in everybody, every race. But law enforcement is the law, and ultimately you have to obey it."

As videos of black men killed by police continued to surface, authorities said, Johnson made plans for an assault, keeping a journal of combat tactics and gathering bomb-making materials.

The day of his bloody rampage, he told his mother he was heading out to the protest but revealed little else, his mother told TheBlaze.

"I told him to stay out of trouble ... and he said, 'I will,' " she recalled. His last words were "I love you."

Hours later, cornered by police downtown, Johnson mocked them. He said he wanted to kill whites, especially white officers, and asked how many he had shot.

Learning what had happened, his mother could not believe it.

"I was like, you know, you've got to be lying. Not my son. He got upset when we ran over a squirrel."

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Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Will Weissert in Dallas and AP researchers Monika Mathur in Washington and Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.