Police documents obtained by Outside the Lines shed new light on the circumstances surrounding former Texas A&M wide receiver Thomas Johnson’s brief disappearance from the team in 2012, an incident that raised alarm almost three years before his arrest this week on murder charges.
Johnson, a former top recruit who helped lead the Aggies past No. 1-ranked Alabama in 2012, disappeared from the team two days after the game. He was found days later near his former Dallas high school, but few details were ever provided by friends, family or Texas A&M about what had happened. On Monday, Johnson, 21, made national news again after police said he repeatedly attacked a jogger with a machete or long knife, killing him on a popular Dallas running trail.
According to a police affidavit, Johnson spoke with a responding officer after Monday’s incident and twice said, “I just committed capital murder.” According to The Associated Press, Johnson, when the officer asked him to explain, said only, “It’s like when you don’t wake up.” The victim was apparently picked at random.
According to the Nov. 13, 2012, police report concerning Johnson’s disappearance from the team, assistant coach David Beaty contacted campus police to tell them the freshman Johnson was missing from class and practice and that his teammates had been concerned because Johnson had acted strangely over several months.
Beaty told officers that Johnson had texted a teammate, who the report refers to as Jordan Richards, a day earlier and “told him that he was Jesus and he was headed west.” (While Texas A&M had no one with that name on its roster in 2012, linebacker Jordan Richmond was a freshman.)
The report states that “Beaty explained that at one time, Johnson believed that Jordan was the devil but now believes that he has helped him become right with the Lord.” Johnson apparently believed that “several of the other players were also characters in the Bible,” the report states.
The coach told the officer that Johnson was very religious and perhaps thought that the victory just days earlier against Alabama “was a sign from God.” The coach said Johnson went missing “several months ago” for two days but seemed fine until the second disappearance.
The report states that Beaty said Johnson never made any comments that he “wanted to hurt himself or others” and that he was a quiet, passive person.
After the conversation with Beaty, police contacted several of Johnson’s teammates, relatives and friends, including his then-girlfriend who was attending college in Arlington, Texas. His mother told police about the last time he went missing, when he went to visit his 12-year-old cousin who lives near Dallas. His mother said Johnson had been “getting stuff from the Bible,” so she had taken him to a minister in Dallas to help him sort out what he was reading.
Police ultimately caught up to Johnson in Dallas by tracing his cellphone use. When they arrived to the cellphone’s last location, a man named Kevin Coleman told them that Johnson had just run out the back door of a house and that he knew police were looking for him. “Coleman stated that Johnson was crazy and believed he was Jesus,” the report states. Coleman, a friend of Johnson’s, told police that Johnson said he had walked from College Station to Hearne, Texas — 26 miles — and ridden a Greyhound bus to Dallas.
Police were still trailing Johnson’s cellphone when they learned that he had made contact with his girlfriend, who was supposed to pick him up at a local park. Police interceded and took Johnson into custody and brought him to a hospital.
There was no follow-up report and no narrative indicating that police questioned Johnson. The report was categorized as a welfare check, and there was no reference to any criminal allegations. Court records in Brazos County also showed no record of incidents for Johnson during his time at Texas A&M.
Johnson did have more recent run-ins with police in Dallas County.
On April 8, 2014, he allegedly broke into his aunt’s house. State records show he wasn’t arrested until June, and he was later convicted on felony charges of burglary and unauthorized use of a vehicle. He was also arrested in August 2014 for evading arrest, and he pleaded no contest.
Records show that the day after the incident at his aunt’s, he was arrested for marijuana possession and found guilty.
Less than a week earlier, the San Antonio Express-News had run a feature story about Johnson and what he had been doing since the 2012 disappearance. It stated that he “apparently left College Station on his own accord” and “never returned to A&M.”
In that story, his mother, Linda Hanks, declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his disappearance; Johnson himself refused to comment entirely for the article. Hanks was quoted as saying Johnson was planning to play college football again: “He’s working out, he’s getting in shape, and he shall return.”
Johnson remains in a Dallas County jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.
Texas A&M athletics released a statement about Johnson’s arrest for murder, saying: “We are not able to discuss this situation due to legal proceedings, but this is an awful tragedy for all involved.
“Thomas Johnson played at Skyline High School and signed with Texas A&M as a true freshman in 2012. He played in 10 games and started two at wide receiver before leaving the team and the University in November of 2012 and has not had any involvement with the football program over the past three years.”
SOURCE: ESPN – Paula Lavigne