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17-year-old son fatally shot is remembered for giving back to community

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The parents of 17-year-old James Johnson III are speaking out after their son was killed Saturday night on the city’s east side.

Johnson left a huge hole in the community, his parents say, and they never expected anything so violent to happen to their son.

“He was just a good kid. I mean I don’t know anybody that didn’t like him or didn’t love him,” said James Johnson II, the boy’s father.

He’s a son gone too soon. La’Toya Martin, the boy’s mother, said, “It’s definitely difficult. It hurts. I mean, you know, it’s painful. We’ve lost a son, brother, cousin and friend.”

According to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the shooting happened around 11 p.m. in the 5800 block of East Lowell Avenue. That’s northeast of East Washington Street and North Ritter Avenue. 

Police say they found James Johnson III with gunshot wounds, and he later died at a hospital. Police have not released any information about a suspect or what may have led to the shooting.

Martin said, “It was a group of friends in a room, and one of them lost their life, and we don’t know the details behind how. We just know that it was with a gun that should have never been in that room.”

Johnson II said, “This is something they have to live with for the rest of their lives. This is also something all of us have live with for the rest of our lives. We would like some closure.”

Combining his love for fruits with giving back to the community, Johnson III had found ways to bring fresh produce to different communities. His father said, “He saw that there were food deserts, grocery stores closing, and different things like that, and he and I would always try different exotic fruits at home and he thought, ‘OK, well, let’s get these kiwis and mangos and pineapples and watermelon, and let’s put them in a cup and take them out to the basketball courts, the parks.”

“So, that’s how he kind of came up with the idea for 317FruitMan and then it just expanded from there into underserved communities, food deserts, and anytime he would try a new exotic fruit he would tell his friends to try it,” Johnson said. “He wanted to be an entrepreneur and, in these past few years, he’s really been in the lane of studying food science, culinary stuff.”

People praised him for his work including podcaster Tevin Studdard on the “All Indiana Podcast Network” at WISH-TV. In August 2021, Studdard interviewed Johnson.

Martin said, “We can have tough situations in life and we can still find happiness and enjoy in those moments, and that’s what we’re going to do in my son’s tragic death right now.”

His basketball coach Aaron Story says he will be missed. “It’s hard on teammates. It’s hard on peers. It’s hard on classmates. They have questions. They hurt. They mourn because it’s their brother.”

School officials say there’s a James Johnson III Memorial Fund. Contributions will go directly to the Martin and Johnson families to cover medical and funeral arrangement expenses.

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