San Bernardino Shooting Survivor Recounts Hero's Story

December 6th 2015

Laura Donovan

Twenty-seven-year-old Denise Peraza, who was shot in the back during Wednesday's mass shooting in San Bernardino, released a statement through her family to pay tribute to the late 45-year-old county health inspector Shannon Johnson. Peraza says that she is only alive due to Johnson's efforts at the holiday party that day at the Inland Regional Center.

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Peraza wrote that she and Johnson had been joking together just a few minutes before the shooters entered the gathering and opened fire into the crowd, adding that he shielded her from the bullets and died so she could survive the attack.

"Wednesday morning at 10:55 a.m., we were seated next to each other at a table, joking... would have never guessed that only five minutes later, we would be huddled next to each other under that same table, using a fallen chair as a shield from over 60 rounds of bullets being fired across the room," Peraza's statement reads. "I will always remember his left arm wrapped around me, holding me as close as possible next to him behind that chair, and amidst all the chaos, I'll always remember him saying these three words, 'I got you.' I believe i am still here today because of this amazing man."

According to CNN, Johnson worked for San Bernardino County for more than a decade. He lived in Los Angeles' Koreatown neighborhood and left home at 4:45 each morning to take the train to San Bernardino, which is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

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Peraza, who is a newlywed, is recovering at home, her husband, Angelo, told CNN. Johnson's girlfriend, Mandy Pifer tearfully told CNN that she misses him terribly.

"Shannon ... was covered in tattoos, he had a big bushy beard, but he was a kitty cat," Pifer said in a video interview. "He was the kindest person anyone has ever met. Made friends very easily. He was always great at sports. He loved people and animals. Just everybody. He loved people. He loved telling stories."

Pifer added that Johnson knew and was fond of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters.

"He liked Syed," she said. "Shannon just wanted everybody to know that every religion is important."

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Pifer added that she and Johnson had talked about what they would do in a shooting since "this kind of thing happens often enough." She told CNN that he thought he would "charge after the gun" if possible.

"I was always [like], 'I'm ducking and covering,' and he said, 'No, screw that, I would charge, I would go after that gun,'" Pifer said. "He was not afraid to die. So I knew if there was a gunman, Shannon went after [that person]. He wasn't hiding anywhere. His brother knew it, everybody had that feeling. He had an incredible soul. It's a loss for humanity."

Pifer added that Johnson always told her he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

"And he did," she said. "He was a man of his word."