Lewis County Sheriff Johnny Bivens held a press briefing Thursday morning to update the media concerning the murder of Justin Johnson, 28. Bivens said Johnson’s body was discovered Wednesday afternoon by two men scouting for turkeys on Cooper Ridge at the Lewis/Carter county line.
“Mr. Johnson suffered a gunshot wound and his death was a homicide,” Bivens said.
He went on to say a post-mortem examination on Johnson’s body was to be done at 9:00 a.m. Thursday at the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Frankfort.
“We are carefully collecting evidence in this case,” Bivens told members of the press and Johnson’s family who had gathered on the third floor of the Lewis County Courthouse to hear the news.
Bivens said he had also talked with family members on Wednesday night. He pledged daily updates to them and promised to work diligently to bring the guilty parties to justice.
Bivens told family members he believes the case will be resolved in a timely manner.
“To the Johnson family, I am deeply sorry for your loss,” Bivens said. “My office is deeply committed to locating a suspect or suspects. I will be working around the clock in an effort that the person or persons be brought to justice,” Bivens said.
Bivens said he would spend the remainder of Thursday interviewing potential witnesses and suspects as well as obtaining several search warrants to get a closer look at locations that have been identified as points of interest during the investigation.
Bivens thanked the volunteers and others for their assistance in searching for Johnson since his disappearance.
Bivens said Johnson apparently received what appears to be a single gunshot wound, but he believes there is more than one person involved.
He is not releasing a possible motive at this time. He said he is not certain Johnson’s body has been at Cooper Ridge since the time of his disappearance, but he doesn’t believe Johnson was shot at Cooper Ridge and Bivens said drugs could be involved.
Sheriff Bivens says Johnson was last seen about 8:00 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at his home on Town Branch Road in Vanceburg. His red Chevrolet S-10 pickup was found on Lower Twin Branch off McDowell Creek Road, south of Garrison, about 7:30 a.m. Friday, March 24.
Bivens said he was contacted Thursday night by a concerned family member after Johnson failed to return home when he said he would.
At least 12 different search dog teams scoured the immediate area Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
Johnson’s cell phone records were obtained and the information helped to guide the search throughout the weekend.
Volunteers also searched the area on foot and on horseback but were unable to collect any information that indicated Johnson had been in the area where his truck was located.
A helicopter was brought in on Tuesday to survey the scene from the air but no new information was collected from that effort.
Lewis County Judge Executive Todd Ruckel has worked closely with the search teams as well as with the other local officials since he learned Johnson had been reported missing.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and we are deeply saddened by their loss,” Ruckel said.
Bivens is asking anyone who may have any information that could be helpful in determining what may have happened to Johnson is urged to call the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office at 606-796-2912.
Bivens said callers may remain anonymous and all information will be treated confidentially.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.