LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — One was a popular student studying to be a radiology technician, while the other was an outgoing artist who ran retail boutiques in two Louisiana cities.
The two people slain by a gunman who opened fire Thursday in a crowded Louisiana movie theater, Jillian Johnson and Mayci Breaux, had promising careers and the love of friends and family.
“They had a face, they had a name. They had a future. It wasn’t to die in this theater,” said Col. Michael Edmonson, head of Louisiana State Police.
As friends and family tried to make sense of the tragedy, they also shared memories of the two victims. Below are their stories.
Jillian Johnson, 33
Jillian Johnson, 33, was remembered as an all-around “creative force” who ran clothing and art boutiques, played in a rootsy rock band, helped organize a music festival, and used her design skills on t-shirts and other crafts.
Lucius Fontenot met Johnson while both were studying art at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and he later produced an album for her band called The Figs. The band played as recently as July 17 in New Orleans, according to Facebook.
“She just did the things she wanted to do, and nothing could stop her,” said Fontenot, 37. “She was a creative force, always inspiring and amazing to watch.”
She and her husband, Jason Brown, ran boutiques in Lafayette and New Orleans called Red Arrow Workshop that sold wooden toys, candles and jewelry. The store’s website said she was “obsessed” with Fats Waller, Tina Turner and John Steinbeck and that her favorite movie was “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
“Our hearts are shattered. We will love you forever. She was a once-in-a-lifetime gal. A mother, daughter, sister and a truly exceptional wife,” said a message posted on the store’s Facebook page.
Nobody answered the door at the home Johnson shared with her husband, Jason Brown, but there were signs of the tragedy as a delivery truck driver left flowers at the front porch.
“I just can’t believe this. Not Jillian. Not Brown. They’re good people,” said next-door neighbor Nolan Martin Sr., 57.
Martin said Johnson planted fruit trees throughout the neighborhood – peaches, figs and locally grown mandarin oranges called satsumas – so her neighbors and people heading to a nearby homeless shelter could stop for snacks.
“She was trying to beautify the neighborhood, uplift the people around here to take care of their homes,” Martin said.
Tyler Thigpen met Johnson in 2011 as part of a team forming a nonprofit focused on local food. Johnson showed her personal commitment by tending a home garden and raising chickens.
“Jillian had this incredible style, passion and talent for things she’d never done before,” Thigpen said. “At 33, she’s done more for the community than most people do in a lifetime. Her involvement and leadership and contributions are really going to be missed.”
In a 2012 interview with The Advertiser, Johnson said the best advice she’d ever been given was to “do good work.”
“My dad used to say that to me before I left for school in the morning,” Johnson said. “I didn’t realize it was totally my lifelong mantra until I was in my 20s.”
Mayci Breaux, 21
Mayci Breaux, 21, was in the first year of an associate’s degree program for medical radiology technicians at Louisiana State University-Eunice.
The head of the program, Robert McLaughlin, described her as a sweet, generous person who was always polite and professional.
“She was the kind of person you want in your program,” McLaughlin said. “She had a lot of potential. I knew she would do well.”
McLaughlin met Mayci Breaux about a year ago as she began taking classes required to apply for the program. McLaughlin said Friday that Breaux’s 25 first-year classmates are grieving as they prepared to finish their first semester.
He gave the students an assignment this summer on why they chose to pursue careers as radiographers.
“She always had an interest in the medical field since being a young girl,” he said. “It’s a different way of thinking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. She had the knack – it showed in her performance this summer.”
The school about 40 miles northwest of Lafayette issued a statement saying that the campus was mourning.
“This was a senseless tragedy and our thoughts are with all of the victims and their families, as well as the entire Lafayette Community,” the statement said.
Thea St. Germain has worked with Breaux at the Coco Eros Fashion Boutique in Lafayette for about a year. St. Germain said Breaux was excited about becoming a radiologist and her future with her boyfriend of several years.
Breaux was always cheerful, with a big smile for customers and co-workers, she said.
“Everyone at the store would remember her,” St. Germain, 24, said. “She was that kind of person to leave an impression on you.”
St. Germain said Breaux’s closeness with her family was demonstrated when she brought her mother to the store a couple of weeks ago.
“You could tell how much they loved each other and the respect (Mayci) had for her,” she said.