Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mother of 4 Compassionate in Loss of Son

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mother of 4 Compassionate in Loss of Son

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton, Times-Union columnist

On the night of Sept. 14, 1999, as people in Jacksonville braced for the approach of Hurricane Floyd, 27-year-old Christopher Rowe telephoned his mother.

As Eula Johnson remembers the conversation, Rowe, who had been in and out of trouble since graduating from Paxon High School in 1986, promised her better days were coming.

"He said, 'Mama, I'm tired and I'm going to try to straighten up my life now,' " Johnson recalls.

Then, after a few minutes of conversation, Rowe told her, "I've got to go, Mama. I love you."

That was the last thing Rowe ever said to his mother. Later that evening, he was killed -- execution style -- by Eric Dwayne Collins, who had known Rowe since they were children.

According to testimony at his trial, Collins came to the house where Rowe was living and convinced his old friend to let him in. He then herded Collins and three other people into a back room, robbed them of about $600 and shot them all. Rowe and Renata Denegal died. Kevin Griffin and Barbara Wright survived and later testified against Collins.

For 30 years, Johnson has worked as a custodian at Paxon while raising four children, including a son, Andrew, now 31, who is severely disabled. When Christopher, the youngest child, was 5, Johnson separated from his father. As Christopher grew up without a father, "I saw trouble coming," Johnson said.

She wanted him to go to college like her daughter Rozina did. But Christopher wasn't interested. He did plan to enlist in the Army but, on the eve of his induction, he was arrested for drug possession.

During the next decade, he alternated between periods of responsibility, when he worked as a truck driver, and periods of irresponsibility, when he hung with his street friends and was in and out of trouble with the law. …

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