‘I’m dead inside, and I’ve cried all weekend’: Family grasps for explanation after deaths of woman and her 2 children

Derek Johnson, who was staying in a camper-trailer in the backyard of the couple’s home, said he last talked to Nancy Johnson on Tuesday night.
Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 12:15 PM CDT
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SEMMES, Ala. (WALA/Gray News) - Nancy Johnson’s estranged husband and her brothers are grasping for answers in the wake of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office conclusion that she drowned her two young children and then hanged herself last week.

Derek Johnson, who was staying in a camper-trailer in the backyard of the couple’s home, said he last talked to Nancy Johnson on Tuesday night. He said he went into the house on Thursday after not hearing from her and found her body, along with 2-year-old Jacob Johnson and 5-year-old Mia Johnson.

“I walked over to Jacob and put my hand on his back to try to wake him up,” he said Monday, speaking publicly for the first time.

Johnson said he had been numb, trying to explain the inexplicable.

“Right now, I am just – I’m dead inside, and I’ve cried all weekend,” he said. “And I just – I just feel sick. … I feel lost now. I have nothing. Absolutely nothing. And I don’t know how I’m going to recover. I don’t know. I just know I’m going to miss them all.”

Nancy Johnson’s brothers, Fredy and James Léon, said they cannot believe she ever could have harmed her own children.

“I know my sister, and I am sure she will never do anything to harm her children. … She was worried about the safety of her kids,” Fredy Léon said.

James Léon urged the Sheriff’s Office to take another look at the evidence.

“Nancy, and we know her very well – very well – she was a very strong woman,” he said. “She has a very protective network of family.”

According to her family, Nancy Léon grew up in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States after 2001. Johnson said he met her in church, and the couple married in 2016.

Things were good at first, Johnson said. He said he quit his job at Boeing Corp. in Washington State and researched real estate prices in search of a place where they could buy a house for cash and live mortgage-free. He said Semmes fit the bill, and they moved there a couple of years ago. He worked as a crane operator.

Johnson said his wife grew paranoid during the COVID-19 pandemic and withdrew.

“I don’t understand why she did this ‘cause she wouldn’t let me in,” she said. “And she wouldn’t let anyone else in when it came to what she was thinking. She had shut everyone out and put a face on everyone that everything was OK.”

Semmes police responded to several domestic disturbance calls at the couple’s home in recent months.

“She started to file police reports when I was at work,” Johnson said. “She started not mentally knowing what was reality and what wasn’t.”

Fredy Léon said he knew his sister well.

“I totally can assure you that her mental state was perfectly fine,” he said.

Court records point to a tumultuous relationship between Derek Johnson and his 39-year-old wife. She filed for divorce in April, only to reconcile in June. Later, she flew to Utah where she has a sister. A judge there granted her request for a protection-from-abuse order.

Johnson said it was all a tactic to gain custody of the children.

“It’s plain and simple – I never have done that,” he said. “I’ve always been there for them. Never have made a home environment that’s hazardous or chaotic for them or dangerous. Always been a protective father.”

Johnson said he needs a month to decide whether to move back to Washington State or pick up the pieces in Semmes and come to grips with how his wife could have done such a thing.

“She loved her children so much,” he said. “That’s the thing that I watch is her rationality on how to love your children just disappeared.”