Waskom High School Principal Kassie Watson’s friendship with Keileon Johnson, one of her more memorable students, began when he questioned the school’s cell phone policy.

It came to a head at one student orientation meeting.

“In front of God and country, I see this hand go up — which why would I ask for questions from high schoolers I don’t know,” Watson recalled. “But I did, and Keileon had his hand up. I said ‘Yes, sir?’ He said ‘Well, Mrs. Watson, what if Jesus calls our cell phone? Can we answer it?’ I assured him that Jesus didn’t use a cell phone and that he had nothing to worry about. That was the beginning of a fast friendship between Keileon and I.”

Members of the Waskom community gathered with Keileon Johnson’s family on Friday night at the high school football stadium to celebrate his life. Johnson was shot to death May 23 in DeBerry. He had just finished his second semester at Panola College.

At the memorial service Friday, his hometown cried, laughed and comforted each other as they recalled his forceful personality and mischievous sense of humor. Thomas Ford, an older classmate, recalled Johnson’s favorite thing to say: “My name is Keileon Johnson. Remember that; it’ll mean something one day.”

“He used to tell my girlfriend all the time to ‘drop a zero and get with the hero,’” Ford said. “Now I don’t know if I would have necessarily consider myself a zero, but I would for sure consider Keileon a hero. The way that the community has come together for Keileon and his family is just amazing. It happened so fast and so forcefully.”

Charlotte Reeves, another classmate and good friend of Johnson, said she still could not fathom how and why someone as bright and promising as Johnson could be taken from them so quickly.

“If you never had the opportunity to meet Keileon or get to know him, boy did you miss out on meeting one of the most genuine, caring and thoughtful people,” Reeves said.

Reeves take comfort in the fact that Keileon, who loved God, is in Heaven now.

“He gets to walk with God and watch over each of us down here,” Reeves said. “He got there first, and he’s going to make sure that God always has a smile on his face. He’ll be a guardian angel for all of us, and when we get to heaven, he’ll be one of the first voices (we) hear.”

Johnson is loved by everyone, Watson said — even if he sometimes got on your nerves.

“No one was safe from Keileon’s pranks or Keileon’s jokes, and if he didn’t joke with you, it’s because he didn’t know you. And if he did joke with you, it’s because he loved you,” Watson said. “He could drive you crazy, but then the next minute he’d make you smile. There wasn’t a teacher at Waskom High School that didn’t love him.”

Reporter

Carthage native Meredith Shamburger has worked for the Panola Watchman since 2018. Before that, she worked at sister papers in Longview and Marshall; the Dallas Morning News; and The Daily Voice, a hyperlocal news company in Westchester County, New York.