It Could Have Happened Here

Could Have Happened Here artwork - photo of gunshot through glass in B&W
H Newberry/Pixabay

G.O.D. and Country

By Steve Watkins

Brent David Alford was watching hockey the night of June 18, 2022. Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Colorado Avalanche vs. Tampa Bay Lightning. The Avs were in the process of smoking the Lightning, 7-0, and would go on to win the Cup 4-2. At 9:45 p.m., late in the second period or early in the third, Alford’s wife Anjelica noticed a car had pulled into their long private drive in rural Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and was idling about 30 yards from the house at a dirt turnaround. Alford grabbed his handgun, a Glock 9mm with a 15-round magazine, and went out to confront the driver and whoever else was in the car. Anjelica and a teenage son, their youngest, stayed at the front door. Anjelica would later tell an investigator that there was so much marijuana smoke filling the car that the occupants’ heads bobbed above it as if they were floating on a cloud–an image she insisted she saw despite the distance from the house, the darkness, the floodlight she said was reflecting off the car windows, and the law of thermodynamics. 

Behind the wheel was 17-year-old Devin Johnson, who had just graduated from Massaponax High School and been named to the All-Region 5A team in basketball. He would be starting college and playing next-level hoops at the University of Mary Washington in the fall. With him were his 16-year-old brother, a rising senior, and their sister and her best friend, both 15. They had been given the wrong GPS coordinates for a Grace Hill address in the sparsely-populated southeast corner of the county. The end-of-school/graduation party they were looking for was actually a couple of houses away. They had stopped partway down the 500-foot-long drive onto the Alfords’ 12-acre property when they realized there were just a couple of vehicles parked next to the house—clearly no party happening—so something must have been messed up with the GPS. Before they could leave, though, or figure out where they were supposed to be going, an angry Brent Alford appeared, banging on the car window and yelling. Devin, who hadn’t seen the weapon as the man approached, wondered if he should get out to explain that they were just lost. But then the other kids started screaming at him to take off—“He has a gun! He has a gun!”

In the initial account Alford gave about the incident, he portrayed himself as the calm one. He told a sheriff’s deputy he had left the house holding the Glock in his left hand—not his shooting hand—and politely approached to see why the intruders were there and hadn’t stopped at the “Private Road” sign at the top of the drive. The car, an older model Buick sedan, reeked of all that pot smoke, he said, and it was too dark to see how many people were inside—so dark, in fact, as he made a point of telling the first sheriff’s deputy on the scene, that he couldn’t make out the color of the occupants, all of whom were black. 

As soon as he bent down to ask if the driver needed any help, Alford said, things went sideways. Someone inside the car started yelling “Get him!” or possibly “Hit him!” He couldn’t be sure. In shifting accounts over the next several days, Alford described a chaotic series of rapid-fire events, the gist of which were that the car ran over his foot, turned around, bumped into his leg, started to drive off, then stopped, with the brake lights coming on as if the car was going to back up and hit him again—prompting the former Marine, security contractor, sheriff’s deputy, and corrections officer to drop into a shooter’s stance, aim at the license plate—or, in another telling, at one of the tires—and fire a round from his 9mm into the back of the car. He couldn’t 

miss, he told the first deputy: his red dot site was right on target, plus he was only six feet away.

He still had fourteen more Speer caliber 9mm Luger cartridges in the 15-round magazine if he needed them. 

The detective and prosecutors assigned to the case were skeptical about Alford’s account, except for the part about firing the Glock. One of Alford’s bullets did hit the back of the car—not as it was backing up toward him, they later determined, but as the teenagers were fleeing out of the Alfords’ driveway. The bullet struck the taillight and went through the trunk, slowing down just enough when it struck a container of antifreeze that it somehow, miraculously, ended up lodged under the backseat cushion without hitting any of the kids.

Though the case was reported locally and appeared as a news brief in a few media outlets around Virginia, the fact that Devin Johnson and his siblings and their friend weren’t physically harmed that night is why you probably haven’t heard much, if anything, about the incident. Because in America, a near-miss isn’t enough to make the evening news. You have to be shot, like the teenage boy in Kansas City who, like Devin and his siblings, showed up at the wrong house one night in April. He’d gone to pick up his younger siblings, and the elderly man whose front steps he turned up on shot him in the head after he knocked on the door, then shot him again before he staggered away, begging for help, approaching three houses before someone came to his aid and called 911. 

That same week, in New York, another group of young people drove down the wrong driveway looking for a party. They’d turned around and were leaving when the armed and pissed-off homeowner fired his rifle at the car, hitting a 20-year-old woman in the head. She died while her friends drove off frantically looking for help. Later, still that same week in April, another teenager, a cheerleader, mistakenly got into a car she thought was hers in a grocery store parking lot in Texas, saw a man sitting in the passenger seat, realized her mistake, got out, tried to leave and apologized, but the man followed with a gun and shot her and her friend at point-blank range. 

The carnage continued on May 8—the same day Brent Alford was sentenced in a Spotsylvania courthouse to nine years in prison, seven-and-a-half of it suspended—when a Louisiana man saw shadows moving in his yard and grabbed his gun. A group of kids had been playing hide-and-go-seek and some of them had gone into the man’s yard. He started shooting as they were running away. One of his bullets hit a 14-year-old girl in the back of the head.

There’s a term we’ve begun using in our house for this all-too-familiar phenomenon, so commonplace that we only have time for passing horror each time it happens: Gun Ownership Disorder, or G.O.D. It’s the deep-seated belief that because you own a firearm—as half of all men in America do, and one in five women—you’re entitled to use it, even if you’re safely tucked inside your home with a small arsenal of weapons and the ability to call 911. Even if you have no real reason to feel threatened except that your mind is running wild and you’re gripped with fear because someone you don’t know has set foot on your property or invaded what you consider to be your personal space. 

The fear, the entitlement, the paranoia–all of it may explain, though nothing can possibly justify, why gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States.


At some point during Brent Alford’s confrontation with the teenagers, Anjelica Alford retreated with their son back into the house, a 3,000 square-foot, $550,000 Colonial perched on a rise in the middle of a grassy field. She called 911 to report the intruders who’d driven onto their property, at first saying a car had tried to run over her husband, but then back-tracking about what she’d seen, or hadn’t seen, when the dispatcher asked for details about how exactly it had happened. The dispatcher asked Anjelica where her husband was at that moment and told her that he, too, needed to come inside and wait for the sheriff’s deputies. Anjelica responded that she couldn’t see Alford or the car outside anymore. Floodlights on the side of the house illuminated the driveway and much of the front yard. The dispatcher asked what kind of gun Alford was carrying. Anjelica said a Glock, which at that point may no longer have been true. 

That’s because after the teenagers drove away—“like Evel Knievel,” according to the Alfords—Brent Alford had returned to the house, gone upstairs, pulled on a bullet-proof tactical vest, and grabbed his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, one of a number of weapons he kept in the home. Anjelica may or may not have known this when she was on the 911 call. She is vague about many of the details. Brent Alford then went back outside and through the woods and a neighbor’s yard, hoping to intercept the kids in their fleeing car, possibly thinking he could catch up to them somewhere near the sharp bend in Grace Hill road where it cuts hard to the right before zigzagging over to Harris Ford Road where the kids might have found their way back to civilization.

Anjelica begged the dispatcher to please tell the responding officers not to shoot her husband. 

Alford’s attorney, presumably concerned about the damaging contents of the call for his client, later filed a motion to have the 911 audio declared inadmissible in court as “Hearsay.”

The Johnson kids’ parents—Corey and Audrey Johnson—were in Richmond that evening attending a Method Man and Redman concert on Brown’s Island. Corey Johnson is a systems operations supervisor for Washington Gas, as well as an event promoter and entrepreneur; Audrey Johnson works for the federal government. As soon as they got the full story the next morning from their children, they called the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s office. Corey Johnson would later testify at the sentencing hearing about how much he struggled as a father with what he wanted to do when he found out someone had tried to harm his children, knowing he had to model the right way to handle things for the kids instead—by cooperating with law enforcement and putting his trust as much as possible in the legal system. That, too, would be a challenge for him when the initial charges were brought against Alford, which the Johnsons thought were woefully insufficient given that their children could have been killed.

And then there was finding out, a few days after the incident, that Alford had also gone after the kids with an AR-15….


Body cam videos from the night of June 18 and the early morning of June 19, 2022, show what appear to more than a dozen deputies and numerous sheriff’s cruisers converging on the Alfords’ house and the Grace Hill area—including a K9 unit with a tracking hound that immediately begins working the area of the shooting in the Alfords’ driveway and yard. Officers are sent to check out the Alfords’ motion sensor camera—nothing useable there, an FBI analyst will later determine—and the party house up the road, where the Alfords said a couple of teenagers lived, left to their own devices by absent parents who may have moved out of the area but still owned the home. At one point, deputies stop a Lyft driver who is starting down the Alfords’ driveway—just like Devin Johnson had done earlier—also with the wrong GPS coordinates. They explain to the driver that he has missed his turn and give him directions to the party house where he can safely deliver his passengers.

The deputies scour the area looking for any sign of the teens’ older model Buick sedan that the Alfords have described as burgundy, or maybe tan, or maybe some other color, and shortly after they arrive at the party house to check things out, they spot it—a 2002 goldish-tan Buick Century also just then arriving. Inside are Devin and his siblings and their friend, the same kids who’d been shot at earlier in the evening by Brent Alford. 

The deputies check to make sure none of the teenagers are hurt, then take Devin’s license and tell them all to wait in the car. When there’s a shooting, they explain, every case gets handed off to a higher-ranking officer, and there is one on the way, Detective Sharon Williams, who will be taking over the investigation as soon as she gets there.

The teenagers tell the deputies that they had heard the gunshot but didn’t know the bullet had hit their car—not until the deputies show them where it entered, and look through the trunk to follow the trajectory, and find the damaged container of antifreeze, and lift the back seat where they see the spent bullet. 

The rest comes out later, after Detective Williams arrives: how the kids were freaked out by the encounter with Alford, and freaked out when they heard the gunshot, but weren’t sure what to do about any of it. How they thought they must have done something terribly wrong for the man to have been so angry—though there was no way Devin had hit Alford with the car, and no way they’d been smoking pot. They said they’d been afraid to go home, afraid to tell anybody what had just happened. And they had no idea that Alford had gone after them with his AR-15—or that he’d almost caught up with them when they stopped at the top of a hill not far from his house shortly after the shooting. 

It was Alford himself who told deputies that he’d seen them there, maybe just trying to get their bearings, but also, he surmised, maybe plotting to come after him for putting a round through the back of their car. Alford said he saw the doors of the Buick open and the dome light come on, and heard rap music blasting from inside. But they left, he said, before he could get any closer.


Though the details were slippery, and increasingly unconvincing to Detective Williams, Alford stuck to his story—during the investigation and eight months later when the case went to trial: that a carload of violent pot-smoking rap-music intruders had trespassed onto his property and attacked him with their vehicle, and that he’d shot at them in self-defense. 

He also didn’t waste any time telling people about it. Five days after the incident, when he posted some old photos on social media, one of his friends commented, “I’m assuming you didn’t shoot at little kids back then did you?” There were a couple of “Likes.”

In the weeks after the shooting, investigators collected the following: a picture of the spent bullet, pictures of the car, the layout of the car, a picture of the back seat where the bullet was found, pictures of the kids, a picture of Alford’s Glock, a picture of the magazine of Alford’s Glock, pictures of the Alfords’ house, driveway, and privacy sign, maps of the Alford’s house and property and the Grace Hill area, recordings of the 911 calls, body cam footage from sheriff’s deputies who responded to the 911 calls, a couple of text messages from the kids to a friend and to their mom about trying to find the party house, a photo of a lemon-size thigh bruise Alford said he sustained from the kids’ car.

Nine days after the incident, to his astonishment, Alford was arrested and charged with Shooting at an Occupied Vehicle with Malice, a Class 4 felony that carries a maximum sentence of 2 to 5 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. He was also hit with a related misdemeanor, Reckless Handling of a Firearm. After a couple of nights in the Rappahannock Regional Jail, where he’d once worked, Alford was released on bail—and soon posting on social media again. 

“The ability to defend yourself and then have the law turned against you is mind boggling!!” he wrote on July 8. “If you even touch a weapon these days, you automatically lose your rights. A criminal can use whatever. The justice system could care less. If you do, to defend yourself and/or your family, we’ll [sic] then, you are now a monster and a criminal!”

The Johnson family, meanwhile, started a Facebook page, “Protect our Children—The Spotsylvania, VA 4,” to let friends and others in the community know about the shooting and what they felt were insufficient charges brought against Alford. They asked people to contact the Commonwealth’s Attorney about it, and even organized a small rally outside the courthouse.

“To think that one of our kids (or several) could have been struck and killed by Mr. Alford scares us to death,” they posted. “’Why?’ … This is the prominent thought in our, and everyone’s, mind. This is a question any parent would ask… We believe that the shooter was willful in his actions against our children when he fired his weapon into their car with them in it. Shooting at anyone who is not a threat is nothing less than attempted murder.”

The teens told their parents they didn’t want to watch fireworks on the 4th because the sound reminded them of gunshots. A month later, the Johnsons wrote that they weren’t posting photos from the younger teens’ first day back at school in August, or Devin’s college orientation, out of ongoing concerns for their safety.

None of kids were doing very well. Devin felt guilty for having put his siblings in harm’s way. In a victim impact statement he read in court months later, he wrote, “Life could have been completely different if the trajectory of that bullet fired into my car wasn’t altered by a single can of coolant. That single night changed life as I know it. My siblings could have died under my guardianship and that haunts me to this day. I was to protect them at all costs and their life was put into my hands. But instead of heading home clear minded knowing I did my job as their older brother I was left thinking that it was my fault that I put them in that situation…. I don’t know what I would have done if any of their lives were taken that night. Life just simply wouldn’t be the same. And I think about it still, to this day.”

The three younger teens started seeing therapists not long after the shooting to help them cope with their anxiety—at first weekly sessions, then every other week, then, as the trial date drew closer, weekly again. They rarely went out, and said they were often fearful when they did. One of the girls had previously been a straight-A student. All of their grades dropped. They discovered they were members of the same church as the Alfords, a nondenominational megachurch called Lifepoint that meets in a cavernous retail center building that at one time had been an ice-skating rink and later an indoor go-cart race track. Now when they saw the Alfords there on Sundays, the Johnsons recognized them from court. They kept their distance. 

Alford, seemingly unrepentant, kept up his posts on social media, later in July complaining that the Sheriff’s investigator, Detective Williams, was out to get him—bending the law, he said, to her own purposes and biases. In August, he posted a quote from the movie John Wick: “People will provoke you until they bring out your ugly side, then play victim when you go there.” 

The charges against him multiplied in October when a Spotsylvania County grand jury added indictments for four counts of Assault and Battery, four counts of Attempted Abduction by Force, and one count of Use of a Firearm in a Felony to go along with the felony charge of Shooting at an Occupied Vehicle with Malice. 

In November, after the indictments, Alford finally stopped posting. 


Thursday, February 23, 2023 was unseasonably hot, the outside temperature topping 80 by mid-afternoon. The jury trial of Brent David Alford took up most of the day, with testimony from the four teen victims, from Brent and Anjelica Alford and their youngest son, from several character witnesses, and from sheriff’s department investigators. Body cam footage, photographs, maps, and the picture of the lemon-sized bruise on Bent Alford’s thigh were displayed for the jurors on a giant screen that filled most of one wall opposite where they were seated in the cramped courtroom. A combative Alford continued to blame the kids for provoking the shooting, supported by his wife and son in their testimony. He said if the situation happened all over again, he wouldn’t do anything different. He doubled down when confronted with contradictory statements he’d made to investigators, and with discrepancies and elisions in his employment history. 

Nine days before the shooting, Alford had applied for a position as a deputy with the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Department, leaving out any mention of a rocky tenure he had had as a corrections officer at the Rappahannock Regional Jail. He listed a current sheriff’s deputy, Josh Carnahan, as one of his references, although he probably shouldn’t have. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ryan Mehaffey, who had also, like Alford, served in the Marines, would go hard after Alford’s character at the sentencing hearing, telling the judge that Carnahan had described Alford as “a pathological liar.”

Alford’s attorney was Mark Murphy, one of the more successful criminal defense lawyers in the area, not shy about advertising his past appearances on national news programs such as Good Morning America, Court TV, Fox News, and Geraldo. Murphy tried and failed to have the charges dismissed but did succeed in convincing the jury—which only deliberated for an hour–to acquit Alford on five of the nine charges: the four abductions and a single count of use of a firearm in a felony. But the most serious charge against Alford held—sort of—though the jury reduced it from a Class 4 to a Class 6 felony, Shooting at an Occupied Vehicle without Malice, which carries a maximum sentence of 1 to 5 years and a $2,500 fine. 

Basically, in following Instruction #14 from the judge, William Glover (there were a lot of jury instructions), the nine empaneled jurors determined that though Alford had clearly violated the law when he shot at the teenagers, he had done so not out of malice, but rather “in the heat of passion,” which, as it was explained to the jurors, “arises from provocation that reasonably produces an emotional state of mind such as hot blood, rage, anger, resentment, terror or fear so as to demonstrate an absence of deliberate design to kill, or to cause one to act on impulse without conscious reflection.” 

In other words, because Brent Alford, or his attorney, was able to convince the jury that Alford was enraged, angry, resentful, terrorized, and/or fearful when he pulled the trigger on his Glock 9mm handgun and fired a round into the back of the teenagers’ fleeing car, he caught a break.

The father, grandfather, husband, veteran, Trump supporter, gun-owner, occasional song-writer, Christian men’s group leader, and baseball enthusiast was also convicted on the four assault and battery charges, each of which carried a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Judge Glover rejected a request for bond and remanded Alford to jail until sentencing, which was set for Monday, May 8.

For the next two and a half months, Alford sat alone in an isolation cell on administrative segregation because he was a former jail employee and law enforcement officer. Mark Murphy showed up occasionally to talk over strategy for sentencing—Alford’s only in-person visitor during that time—and Alford was allowed one 45-minute Zoom visit a week with his family. 


Brent Alford mugshots, June 2022 and February 2023

In Brent Alford’s mugshot and other pictures from the time of the original arrest, he’s a beefy 5’8 and 220 lbs., with a ruddy complexion, close-cropped hair, and trim beard, a man given to wearing wide-brimmed cowboy hats and cowboy boots, or else tight t-shirts and baseball caps with his wife Anjelica’s business logo—Alford Title and Consulting, LLC. By the time of the trial, he seemed to have let himself go: scraggly hair, unkempt beard, tired, gaunt. He had his hair cut short again for sentencing and was clean-shaven when he showed up in court, shackled, wearing an orange prison jumper. He looked smaller, paler, almost as if he’d shrunk.

The Johnson family was there—all the kids, the parents, several friends and family members. Anjelica Alford came with Brent Alford’s parents, some of her children, some of their spouses, several friends, maybe twenty people in all. At one point, Alford’s attorney, Murphy, asked them all to stand in a show of support for his client, which they immediately did in coordinated fashion, as if they’d rehearsed. The two sides sat near one another—the Johnsons and the Alfords—separated by a narrow aisle for most of six hours as Judge Glover worked his way through a full docket, which included a number of other sentencing hearings:

* A young man with infected arms charged with selling fentanyl—and addicted himself—who was rearrested when he returned to dealing as soon as he got out on bail. More than a hundred fentanyl pills were found in the bedroom where he was staying at his parents’ home. His parents were in court, though they weren’t allowed to be with him.

* A woman who drank 12 shots of 100-proof vodka in rapid succession and said she had no memory of driving her car afterwards while black-out drunk, hitting multiple vehicles and nearly injuring or possibly even killing several people before finally being forced to stop by a deputy whose cruiser she nearly rammed several times. She spoke at considerable length and in painful detail about her lifetime of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, hoping for mercy from the court. 

* A pedophile caught in a video sting by an online catch-a-predator group that had lured him into thinking he was meeting a 10-year-old girl for sex. Investigators found dozens of child porn pictures and videos on his phone, horrific images and films that a jury and Judge Glover had had to watch during trial on the giant courtroom screen. Before sentencing, the man talked about how much he loved his own young son and how he would never, ever hurt a child.

* A mentally ill 27-year-old man who’d gone off his meds and had been acting out, saying he was going to hurt himself or members of his family. When a sheriff’s deputy responded to what had been called in as a “domestic,” the young man tried to attack him with a sword, threatening and even chasing the deputy until the officer said he was forced to fire his service revolver, hitting the young man in the groin. The deputy, who had applied pressure on the young man’s wound to keep him from bleeding out until paramedics arrived, was asked to testify about the psychological and emotional impact of the shooting on him, and on witnesses, which he said had been significant. The deputy was Josh Carnahan, the same officer Brent Alford had listed as a reference on his unsuccessful job application with the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Department.

Sentencing of Brent David Alford was the last case on the docket. Devin Johnson took the stand to read his victim impact statement, which he’d written out by hand on two sheets of white notebook paper. His younger brother read his statement as well, which he’d folded and refolded so many times that it took him a minute to open it back up. At one point, as he was talking about how close he had come to losing his sister and brother, he broke down on the stand. Their father, Corey, when asked to talk about the impact on the family, broke down as well. Audrey Johnson talked about the disruptions in all their lives—the canceled activities, the academic struggles, the therapy sessions, the basketball tournament in California that Devin had been forced to miss to be in court, the lingering fears.

Murphy, Alford’s attorney, spoke at length about how hard this had all been on his client and on the Alford family. He talked about the uncomfortable conditions in Brent Alford’s isolation cell, and about Alford’s military service—how he was struggling with TBI and PTSD, presumably from his time as a contractor in Afghanistan since Alford had never been in combat when he was in the Marines, where he spent most of his four years as a U.S. embassy guard in Europe. Murphy talked about sentencing guidelines and comparative sentences and requested that Alford be released on time served. After two months in jail, Murphy said, with time to think everything over, Alford now realized that he had shown poor judgement when he confronted the teenagers and shot into their car. He was sorry for what he’d done, and sorry for what the kids had suffered.

When it was Alford’s turn to address the court, he said much the same thing, nearly word for word, as Murphy. He said he saw now that he’d been wrong, and he was truly sorry, and his heart went out to the kids. 

The assistant Commonwealth’s attorneys made it clear that they weren’t buying it. And neither, it seemed, was Judge Glover, who began his comments by saying he was glad to hear Alford finally take some responsibility, as Alford had spent the entire time in court during the jury trial—and in the eight months leading up to it—blaming the teenagers. Handed a stack of testimonials earlier from Alford’s friends and family, Glover had spent ten minutes silently and carefully reading them, marking passages with sticky notes. He read aloud from some of those passages, which emphasized what a great guy Alford was, a man who had served his country and his community in the military and in law enforcement, a man who knew how to size up a situation and respond appropriately. But the judge didn’t appear to be buying that, either. 

“These people know who you told them you are,” he said, but that was not the person Alford had been on the night of June 18, 2022—or since.

His voice growing louder, Judge Glover pointed out the obvious—that more was expected of someone with Alford’s training and experience. A great deal more. And if Brent Alford had picked up the AR-15 as he was heading out the door instead of the Glock, those bullets—as Alford well knew—wouldn’t have been stopped by a jug of antifreeze. 

“It was nothing more than luck that you didn’t kill somebody,” the judge finished, before passing sentence. Nine years, seven and a half suspended. Eighteen months in jail. No guns for the length of the sentence. No going inside any house that has guns—his own or anyone else’s—also for the duration of the sentence. Anger management training. No more violations of the law. 


Fear and guns. But fear of what exactly?

Anjelica Alford says that on the night of the shooting she was convinced that the people in the car—who she swears she didn’t know were just kids—were going to kill her and her family. In an interview a few days after the sentencing, she said she didn’t understand why they didn’t roll down their window and speak to her husband when he went out with his Glock. They should have raised their hands in surrender, she said, which was what she and her brother did years ago when they got lost one night and an armed man confronted them in his driveway. The man racked his shotgun to let them know it was loaded and he meant business. She seemed to think that the burden of preventing a shooting fell on the people at whom a weapon was aimed, not on the person holding the gun. She didn’t mention the unprovoked shootings in Kansas City and New York and Texas and Louisiana that had made headlines in April and May.

The last thing she said in the interview was that she wishes they had gone to bed early on the night of June 18, 2022, instead of staying up to watch hockey—her and Brent Alford and their son. Because then they’d never have even known when somebody showed up in their driveway—not a threat at all as it turned out, just four lost teenagers looking for a party.

One of those teenagers just graduated a year early from high school and will be joining the Air Force in the fall. One is working two summer jobs and looking forward to his second year of college. The other two, who’d been sitting inches from where Brent Alford’s bullet landed, recently turned 16. 

Teenagers have gotten lost looking for parties for as long as there have been parties. A 20-year-old in New York didn’t get to live to tell the story of pulling into the wrong driveway on her way to one. The Johnson kids and their friend, thankfully—and by the grace of God, they and their parents believe—did.


Steve Watkins, editor and co-founder of Pie & Chai, is the author of 12 books, a retired professor emeritus of American literature, a recovering yoga teacher, and the father of four remarkable daughters. He is also a tree steward with the urban reforestation organization Tree Fredericksburg and founder of Rappahannock Area Beaver Believers, a wildlife advocacy group, which you’re welcome to join on Facebook. His author website is