‘He lived his life, he loved his life’ | Mother of drowning victim remembers her son

Joniesha Johnson says her six-year-old Deonco Howard was full of life and ready to make a name...
Joniesha Johnson says her six-year-old Deonco Howard was full of life and ready to make a name for himself.
Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 7:00 PM EDT
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ST. ALBANS, W.Va. (WSAZ) - At just 6 years old, Deonco Howard was already showing a bright, vibrant personality.

“Everything he did with football, basketball whatever sport he did he wanted to make sure you knew who Deonco was,” his mother, Joniesha Johnson recalled of her youngest son.

“His smile was the world, my baby’s smile was the world, that’s what I have to always remember is my baby’s smile.”

Johnson said loving those around him was a natural instinct, already showing protection over his 5-month-old sister calling him “my beautiful girl.”

“He always looked up to his brothers, his sisters,” Johnson said.

“He always said ‘Mommy, you’re so beautiful.”

The six-year-old drowned Saturday morning in the Kanawha River on a night fishing trip, a visit he was talking about the entire week leading up to the excursion.

Johnson described her kindergartener as a natural outdoorsman, who mentioned his excitement about the trip the hours before the accident.

“We were outside just a normal day outside kids running around, playing like they always do having us a cookout,” she recalled.

“He was determined the whole week to go fishing my sister promised him she was going to take him fishing.”

Johnson’s sister, 31-year-old Michelle Godsley, also drowned in the river that night.

Johnson said night fishing was a family tradition from their childhood they were already passing to their own children.

“Our closeness was out of this world and for you to know her was to know me,” she said of Godsley. “She got a heart of gold, we got a heart of gold we don’t see no fear and that’s how my babies were, both of them.”

Howard just finished kindergarten at Alban Elementary and could not wait for the first grade and loved by all his classmates and teachers.

“I can remember dropping him off here at school, getting off with a smile with his bookbag happy, he’d come home and tell me all about his day,” she said. “He lived his life, he loved his life and he was so happy.”

“Deonco was such joy,” Principal Johnna Jacobs said in a statement to WSAZ:

He had a smile on his face every single day. He hugged me every morning and was excited to be at school to see his friends. He was liked by everyone because he was such a kind and positive person. He would seriously light up a room the second he walked in. He had something special about him that he could make people happy when he was around. No matter how stressful things got, Deonco knew how to make you feel better with a hug and a smile. He will be so missed by everyone.

In a separate statement, Deonco’s teacher, Brittany Lovejoy said:

Man, I cant even tell you how grief-stricken I am after hearing this news. He was one of my favorite little buddies of all time.

I have so many great things to say about this little guy. Things like he was always smiling, laughing, and having a good time.

He was also athletic. His peers would watch in awe as he kicked a soccer ball with accuracy, caught a football with ease, swooshed the basketball at a height most six year olds couldn’t throw, and he’d run around the track so fast it was as if he had been training for a race.

But none of those compares to the compassion he had for others. He understood the people around him, always tried to make sure they were feeling their best about themselves and having a good time.

Deonco was an individual that everyone enjoyed being around. The whole class would light up the minute he walked through the door, broadcasting his name the minute they saw him.

But it’s easy to have tons of friends when you have that sort of charisma about you. His status and number of friends is not what I truly loved about him though, nor was it his athletic ability.

The day Deonco Howard took one particular boy under his wing and offered him second chances, understanding, concern, and most importantly friendship. It meant everything to this child, because he struggled to connect with others. And to finally see this other child smile and beg to be around someone, it was a huge deal and it influenced other children to do the same. To take time out and brighten someone else’s flame instead of their own.

In no time at all, the anxiety in the room dropped dramatically and we were all getting along, showing those kinds of characteristics to each other. And I stood in awe of that kind of gentle but powerful influence.

Sometimes you can force good behavior in a room. But positive peer pressure is by far the best motivator. That was what I was most astonished about with Mr. Howard. His wonderful compassion and the way he might very well have influenced so many around him to look inside themselves and give of themselves instead of take.

For a six year old to accomplish that is a rare thing.

He’ll be sorely missed by me and so many others. I pray that with time and comforting thoughts, everyone can look back and think about how someone so young had already begun to influence the world around him in a positive way.

Johnson said the sunshine of her loved ones is what she believes will get her through the grief.

“I have no regrets about letting my baby go fishing, I know that’s what he wanted to do,” she said. “They’re just laughing and having themselves a good time, I feel them around me and I know that’s what’s keeping me going helping me keep myself together.”

The family has an account for final expenses at City National Bank. Anyone interested can make a donation to the Lynn Claytor/ Deonco Howard fund at any regional chapter.

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