Escape was impossible…
Susan Johnson was enjoying a wonderful Christmas with her family – before a killer barged iné
As fairy lights twinkled on the tree, and snow fell outside, Derrick Thompson, 19, and his girlfriend Alivia Welch, 18, excitedly ripped open brightly coloured wrapping paper. It was Christmas Day 2012. Filled with excitement and still wearing their pyjamas, the teenagers looked at each other and laughed.
Click, click, clickéa camera captured the special moment.
A joyful young couple, excited about their future.
Derrick and his mum Susan Johnson, 44, had moved into the rented home in Sokokis Road, Biddeford, Maine, in October.
Their elderly landlord James Pak lived in an apartment next door with his wife.
Pak had bought the building five years earlier, done up both properties, before renting one.
It was the perfect family home for Susan, her younger son, aged 6, and Derrick.
Like most mums, Susan was close to her boys.
She and Alivia had bonded, too, with the young girl recently moving in. But James Pak wasn’t happy. He complained about all the cars in their shared driveway.
Other neighbours knew that James had a bad temper, too.
When a young lad across the road had done some work for James, the old man hadn’t been satisfied.
He’d written to the lad’s dad, asking for a refund.
The family had refused, and Pak had left a nasty voicemail on their home phone.
Pak was, it had to be said, a bit of a Scrooge. His tenants usually only lasted in the property for a year.
Some had even complained of Pak snooping, looking in their windows.
Now, in the midst of a beautiful, snowy Christmas, Susan and her family tried to put the friction with their landlord out of their minds.
But, days after opening their presents under the tree in their open-plan lounge, the festive spirit evaporated in Sokokis Road.
On 29 December 2012, James Pak had confronted Derrick in the driveway, ranting about the way that he was shovelling snow.
Then, at 6.07pm, Derrick had made a phone call to the police.
He’d said that James Pak was ‘freaking out’.
‘Can you send a cruiser, like immediately, I got my landlord freaking out at me, as you can hear in the background,’ Derrick told the operator.
‘He’s giving me death threats, pointing his fingers like it’s a gun going “bang”. I got it all on video. All I’m trying to do is shovel.’
When two officers came to the address, they talked to both families and ruled it a civil matter.
Nothing to do with the police.
But, no sooner had the officers driven away, than a furious James Pak had barged into Susan’s home.
There was nowhere to escape as he pulled out
James Pak had a bad temper, was a bit of a Scrooge
a small silver gun.
Then Pak announced, ‘I’m going to shoot you. I’m going to shoot you all.’
Seconds later, two shots rang out, sending Susan flying backwards.
Landing against the Christmas tree, she fell on the wall behind it and slid down to the floor.
Slumped under the tree, where just days earlier mounds of presents had lain, Susan saw blood spattered up the wall. Hers… Pain ripped through her. She’d been shot, once in the arm and once in the back.
She lay still – played dead so that Pak wouldn’t shoot her again.
She heard Alivia desperately begging for Pak not to shoot, then more gunshots. Then Pak left, sparing Susan’s 6-year-old, who hid in another room. The house fell silent. From where she lay wounded under the tree, Susan couldn’t see Derrick or Alivia.
She called out to them, but they didn’t respond.
And then Susan realised the awful truth… both of them were dead.
She thought she soon would be, too – and, gasping for breath, she called the police.
‘My neighbour just came in and shot us!’ she said. ‘Please hurry!’
It must have felt like forever until the police officers deemed it safe to enter, taking the 6-year-old boy to a neighbour’s house and rushing Susan by ambulance to hospital.
All the while, James Pak – still armed – was holed up in his apartment, the police negotiating his surrender.
A police dispatcher – an emergency communications professional – was on the phone to Pak’s wife Armit.
Pak was holding a gun, talking about dying.
‘I’m gonna die anyway. I want to die,’ he was heard saying.
In the call, the dispatcher heard Pak say, ‘Nobody listen. And I’ve been warning and warning... they’re dead. No more laugh at me no more.’
Tragically, Derrick and Alivia were confirmed dead – they’d died where they’d fallen in a hail of Pak’s bullets.
Pak was eventually arrested after the stand-off with the police and immediately confessed to the shootings. However, when charged with the murders, Pak pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Yet psychological evaluations proved he was aware of what he’d done.
He’d known it was wrong.
So he changed his plea, sparing his family – and the victims’ relatives – the horror of reliving the fatal shooting through a trial.
‘I am guilty and I’m not disagreeing,’ Pak, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, announced in court.
At York County Superior Court in February 2016, James Pak, 77, finally pleaded guilty to murdering Derrick and Alivia and attempting to murder Susan.
Many onlookers in the court gallery were visibly upset.
Sobs were heard as the court was told Pak had carried out the attack ‘methodically’, first shooting Susan, then opening fire on Derrick.
Finally, he’d shot Alivia in the back as she’d begged for her life. Pak was jailed for life. Susan Johnson said she was haunted by the horror of that night. That she’d never forget the enraged look on Pak’s face as he fired.
Paying tribute to Derrick and Alivia, she said, ‘They were good kids. They were starting their life. It’s not fair.’
And – while she survived – for Susan, Christmas will never be the same again.
Susan was haunted by the horror of that night