The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 25, 2013

St. Peter shooting victim friend to many

Jackie Johnson was shot by man she had dated who killed himself

By Dan Nienaber
dnienaber@mankatofreepress.com

---- — ST. PETER — She was the type of person who lined children up at the cabin and started tossing pancakes toward them, forcing the kids to catch the hot, fluffy discs with their plates.

When she was working at Hobber's Bar & Grill Jackie Johnson was the person greeting people at the door, asking them what they wanted to drink and making sure they had a menu if one was needed.

The 48-year-old real estate agent, bartender and part-time letter carrier had the type of personality, good friend Chris Braun said, that prompted Braun's 12-year-old son to comment on a double rainbow that stretched across St. Peter Monday evening. Just before seeing the colorful scene, the Brauns had learned Johnson had been found shot to death at a house she owned on South Front Street.

"My son said, 'A double rainbow. That's perfect for Jackie," Braun said. "I don't remember exactly what he said after that, but it was basically that Jackie was twice the person than everyone else."

A member of Johnson's family had been sent to check on her after she didn't respond to phone calls and texts during the day, Johnson's friends said. That person called 911 to report Johnson was unresponsive and looked like she had been shot. The man who likely shot Johnson before shooting himself, 53-year-old Joel Bruce Reineke of Kasota, was found by a police officer who responded to the call.

Several people who knew Johnson described it as a tragic loss in a community where so many people were connected to her in one way or another.

Some remember her as an avid snowmobile rider. Others knew Johnson as a woman who loved to ride her Harley Davidson motorcycle. Coworkers talk about a driven woman who was always doing something, whether it was bartending, renovating a house she just bought or helping out with someone else's project. Others described her as someone who was always smiling and looking for fun.

Those who knew Johnson well remember her as all those things and more.

Evidence collected during a preliminary investigation and autopsy report show Reineke shot Johnson before shooting himself, said Police Chief Matt Peters. The two knew each other and had dated in the past. Investigators were told Reineke had seen Johnson with another man and became jealous. Peters said there were no signs the two struggled before the shooting.

Emily Wessel lives next door to Johnson's house. Johnson introduced herself to the Wessels after she bought the house about three months ago. She told them she was planning to renovate the house before moving into the lower level and renting out the upper level.

Wessel works nights, but her husband and children were home when police responded to the 911 call reporting a woman had been shot. Her husband said he didn't hear any arguing or gunfire.

"They didn't hear anything until the police came," she said.

Others suspect Johnson had been shot Sunday night or early Monday morning.

Johnson worked at Lake Shores and More realty in Cleveland before she started working for Bridge Realty in St. Peter more recently. Chris Thomas, Lake Shores and More owner, said she and Johnson had been talking to each other a lot recently because they were scheduled to close on a house together later this week.

Johnson didn't respond to Thomas' texts and phone calls Monday.

A Facebook post Thomas saw Monday said someone living in the neighborhood heard gunshots at about 3:30 a.m. Monday. Police questioned Thomas about the post and she showed an officer where she found it.

Ann Mervin, co-owner of Hobber's, worked with Johnson at the bar and at the St. Peter post office. Johnson had been filling in at the post office and was supposed to open the building at 5 a.m. She didn't. Someone was sent to check on Johnson when she didn't show up for her usual Monday night shift at the bar, Mervin said.

"She was a fantastic person," Mervin said. "Our customers were in shock. There's a large group of young people, many of them friends of her daughters, who come to the bar. They're all classmates and close friends. It's tough and hard for the kids. They just don't understand it.

"She was a wonderful person, a peach who wouldn't hurt anybody. She is going to be irreplaceable."

Braun said he has known Johnson's family for years. The family was honored as the Minnesota Snowmobile Association's family of the year, then the national snowmobile family of the year this past year, he said.

Braun also owns property near a cabin Johnson owned in northern Wisconsin. There would be large gatherings of family and friends at the lake, often organized by Johnson. She was a favorite with Braun's kids because of the special way she served pancakes in the morning, he said.

"She would toss them in the air and you had to take a plate and catch them," Braun said. "In all the years of knowing her, I never saw her not smiling."

News of Johnson's death spread quickly through St. Peter and surrounding communities. When asked why so many people knew Johnson, Thomas had a simple explanation. It was her personality.

"She worked at Hermie's Bar forever, works at Hobber's bar now and she comes from a humongous family," Thomas said. "She loved to snowmobile and she loved her little Sportster Harley Davidson. She was a workaholic who was always trying to do good and always trying to help people, but she liked to have fun, too.

"My heart breaks for her family. You can feel sad about a car accident, but this was so senseless. She was an incredible person and she will be missed by many people."