© 2023 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Investigators Shift Focus To Dallas Police Shooter's Military Service


Tomorrow the last of the five Dallas police officers killed last week will be laid to rest. The officers were shot by Micah Xavier Johnson, a 25-year-old Army - former Army reservist. Johnson died when police detonated an explosive. Investigators are still trying to figure out why Johnson targeted police. They are looking at his military service. From Dallas, NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: Dallas Police Chief David Brown seemed uncertain earlier this week when he last briefed reporters.


CHIEF DAVID BROWN: There's a lot of questions, and it's very complex. This person obviously had some delusion. This person also - also was very committed to killing officers. We don't know much else beyond that that we can't say with certainty, but we're - we're going to find out.

BERKES: His investigators first searched for answers in this bucolic neighborhood in suburban Mesquite, where they swarmed through a tan, brick two-story house, hauling off weapons and explosives. Micah Xavier Johnson lived here with his mother, Delphine, who struggled to explain her son's murderous assault in an exclusive interview with the conservative cable show "The Blaze."


DELPHINE JOHNSON: I believe that Micah did what he thought was right to correct an injustice that he felt. But I do not approve of him killing people. There's no way that that's good. But Micah done what he thought was right to correct to the injustice in this world today.

BERKES: That's a reference to the two recent police shootings of African-American men. The search for why moved later in the week to Johnson's six years in the Army reserves, including nine months in Afghanistan as a carpentry and masonry specialist. He was sent home early two years ago after a sexual harassment allegation. His own attorney said the Army let Johnson off easy with an honorable discharge. Johnson's accuser said he needed psychological help. Delphine Johnson told The Blaze that her son came home changed.


JOHNSON: The military was not what Micah thought it would be. He was very disappointed. But it may be that he - the ideal that he thought of our government, of what he thought the military represented, it just didn't live up to his expectation.

BERKES: But he didn't tell her why, his mother said. Micah Johnson's attorney told a reporter there might be something more serious in the military records than the Army ordered him to keep quiet. The spokesman confirms the Army is reviewing Johnson's records, but won't say anything more. Investigators also continued to look at Johnson's interest in black nationalism and militant groups. He showed up at a Dallas pan-African bookstore and art gallery in May for a celebration of black nationalist icon Malcolm X. Storeowner Akwete Tyehimba clearly remembers the bearded man in the purple and yellow dashiki.

AKWETE TYEHIMBA: He just kind of expressed that he was happy to be in a space like this. He didn't know we were here. He just seemed to be comforted that he was in this space. There was no expression or no conversation about black nationalism or shoot police or anything like that.

BERKES: Johnson did hit the like button for militant groups on Facebook, including one calling for attacks on police. There's also speculation the initials he left in blood in a parking garage were meant to be an expression of black nationalism, perhaps RBG - the acronym for red, black and green, the colors of the Pan-African flag. Like Johnson's mother, Akwete Tyehimba struggles to understand how belief and anger descend into bloodshed.

TYEHIMBA: This brother, this human being had the same frustration that you or I may have after those two shootings that week. And it just tipped the lid off of everything. And some of us internalize it. Some of us plan, you know, meetings to sort of deal with those feelings. But this brother took it to the level that created a lot of darkness for us all, I think. And hopefully out of this darkness will come some light. I'm just hoping.

BERKES: Dallas Police Chief David Brown began the week saying there may never be answers to some of the questions left in the blood and the pain of Micah Johnson's attack. By the end of the week, it seemed that hadn't changed. Howard Berkes, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.