A small, blue vase filled with bright blooms of flowers sat in front of Lafayette’s Red Arrow Workshop early Friday morning — a memorial that grew throughout the day.
As friends placed sunflowers, roses and other colorful blossoms in front of the boutique, admirers of Jillian Johnson made sure everyone knew she was loved.
The 33-year-old artist, musician and business owner who was a fixture in the city’s art scene — and who once said in an interview that her idea of happiness was “to love and be loved” — was killed Thursday in the mass shooting at The Grand 16 Theatre.
Johnson, the co-owner of Red Arrow and the T-shirt shop Parish Ink, was a well-known creative mind. Friends said they most loved her dry sense of humor, her intensity in achieving goals and her quirky designs.
“If she wanted something, she went after it,” said friend Glenn Fields. “If she believed in something, she was unrelenting. You could not convince her she was wrong or (that) something she thought was wrong was not a big deal. She was a very strong and willful woman.”
Johnson professed her love for Lafayette in a local “Be You” blog posting. She also said she appreciated kindness and humor, and she liked to have her poodles around at all times.
Her life mantra became “do good work,” as her father, Jackie Johnson, told her before she left for school every morning, she said in the blog.
Fields remembered when Johnson told him she wanted to be in a band, though she had never played music. He told her and her friend to start one, and next thing he knew, Johnson and her friends started the band The Figs.
Patrick Mould, another friend, said the shooting has broken the hearts of Lafayette’s tightly knit community of artists.
“Whether it’s The Figs playing or festivals … the tribe shows up, you know?” he said. “A member of our tribe has been shot down.”
Johnson was born in Louisiana but grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, according to the Be You profile. She graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2004 with an art degree.
Much of her design work had Louisiana- and Lafayette-flavored themes. Johnson sold colorful Mississippi River maps and shirts with phrases like “I wanna be loved bayou” and “Eat more gumbo.”
“Through her design ideas alone, in such a short amount of time, she had already taught us to look at Lafayette differently — she discovered so many new reasons for us to laugh with one another and to love this place,” friend John Troutman said in an email.
She co-owned Red Arrow Workshop with her husband, Jason Brown, and co-owned Parish Ink with her brother, Bram Johnson. Both Red Arrow and Parish Ink also have locations in New Orleans. Brown is a former reporter for The Acadiana Advocate.
A Facebook message posted Friday morning on the Red Arrow page gives a brief description of her family’s grief. The message asks for privacy for the family but thanks the community for their love and support.
“She was a once-in-a-lifetime gal,” the post reads. “A mother, daughter, sister and a truly exceptional wife. She was an artist, a musician, an entrepreneur and a true Renaissance woman. She was the love of my life and I will miss her always.”
Many friends and family members took to Johnson’s Facebook page to express their sympathies and send their prayers.
Gerd Wuestemann, executive director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts, also released a statement Friday morning to express his sympathies.
“During her time with Red Arrow gift shop at AcA, we came to know her not only as a woman of many talents — musician, designer, entrepreneur — but also as a loving and soulful human being and as a caring community advocate,” the statement reads. “Jillian’s passing leaves a void in our lives and a wound in this community. Jillian believed in the unifying power of music and art.”
Mould said he hopes news about the shooter does not overshadow the stories of the victims’ lives. Mayci Breaux, a 21-year-old from Franklin, also was killed during the rampage.
“These people are supposed to be our future,” he said. “These young people are our future. And the future’s gonna be a lot worse off without these two young women in it.”
The Red Arrow website shows photos of Johnson and Brown kissing and smiling, and lists fun facts about each. It says Johnson was a devotee of Fats Waller, John Steinbeck and Tina Turner.
“We’re Jason and Jillian,” they wrote about themselves. “Man and wife. Best of friends. Bookworms. Amateur carpenters. Day dreamers. Dog lovers.”
At the boutique late Friday afternoon, Mari DeRouen dropped off a single rose, its red-tipped yellow petals added to the colors of the hundreds of other bouquets.
DeRouen, whose daughter has been working at Red Arrow for about a year, said the flowers are a fitting tribute for Johnson.
“In her 33 years,” DeRouen said, “she lived more than 80-year-olds.”