DPS teacher Shayna Johnson, killed Aug. 2, remembered as a “protector”

A 43-year-old Denver Public Schools teacher who was fatally shot this month was a protector both inside and outside the classroom, her family said.

Shayna Johnson died after taking a chance on the man accused of killing her — trying to help him get his own life back on track, said her sister Jessica Johnson. She said the two were dating.

“She was just a good person with a great heart,” Jessica Johnson said.

Shayna Johnson, who lived in Aurora, was found in the driver’s seat of a crashed SUV the morning of Aug. 2 in the 3100 block of West Ohio Avenue, Denver police said. A witness reported hearing gunshots and then seeing the vehicle crash into other cars on the block, according to a probable cause statement.

The statement says Donte Ellis, 36, was standing in the street with a pistol in his hand when officers arrived. He surrendered and was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder. Johnson died of a gunshot wound to the head, but the probable cause statement does not say what led up to the shooting.

For about 22 years, Johnson worked with special-needs students and those who needed behavioral intervention services at Denver Public Schools, most recently at Castro Elementary School.

In 2001, she and her sister Jessica Johnson started working together as elementary school special education paraprofessionals in Montbello before Shayna Johnson moved up to work as a restorative practice coordinator, Jessica Johnson said. In that role, she worked to provide behavioral intervention support to students who needed it.

Shayna Johnson worked at Archuletta Elementary School from 2001 until 2021, her younger sister said.

As Johnson’s family was going through her belongings recently, they found several hundred cards that Shayna Johnson had kept — from students, other teachers and parents — telling her how special she was to them and how much they appreciated her.

Her younger brother RJ Johnson said Shayna had a big impact on his life and the lives of their five other siblings as well as Shayna’s two children. She always watched out for them.

But he recently got to hear how she changed the lives of other staff members and students, too.

“And that’s probably one of the reasons she became a teacher — is to protect everybody else’s kids,” he said.

She was intelligent and a problem solver, working in difficult classrooms yet embracing everyone around her, Jessica Johnson said.

Her family members say they are still at a loss to understand why Shayna Johnson was killed.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s almost like you wish every day you wake up, it’s a dream,” Jessica Johnson said. “But it’s not. It’s reality.”

For now, they are focused on helping Shayna Johnson’s two children, in part by raising money through a GoFundMe page.

Staff writer Sam Tabachnik contributed to this story.

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