When Katara Johnson was a little girl, she loved riding bikes and playing with her brother and sister in their backyard. As she grew older, she fell in love with basketball. She became a talented player, eventually receiving a scholarship offer to play at the collegiate level.
Johnson worked hard as the manager at her local Taco Bell in Taylor. She was popular around town and loved hanging out with her friends, according to her brother AJ and sister Shumeka. “She was well-liked in the community and was willing to help anyone that she could,” says Shumeka.
Katara, known to her family as Tara, was found in her home dead on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004. She was 21 years old, and her murder has never been solved.
After working the late shift the night before, Tara’s family began to worry after not hearing from her. The following morning, Tara’s grandmother and 6-year old nephew discovered the scene – Tara was lying on the floor, dead from a gunshot wound.
Her red Mitsubishi Lancer was stolen from the house, but later located in the neighboring county.
Police later discovered that the back door of the house was unlocked and left ajar.
The lack of details and leads in this case has frustrated the family and police alike. Jeff Straub, former Police Chief, told the Taylor Press in 2017, “Law enforcement wants to catch those who do bad things, and it’s a passion that drives us.”
“To not be able to make a case is really frustrating,” Straub added.
Tara lived in Taylor her entire life.
She was close to her family. She and her brother, AJ, were just one year apart. Many people assumed they were twins.
“People would always tell you how nice she was,” AJ recalled.
Tara was athletic and played basketball but loved her family so much that she turned down a scholarship to stay home. She lived in her own house, which was walking distance from her grandmother and uncle. Tara had high ambitions and wanted to study kinesiology in college.
Losing a member of the family crushed the Johnsons, and the grief has been compounded by the weight of not knowing what happened. AJ was in the military when he got a phone call from his niece saying his older sister was dead. He was in disbelief, so he called his grandmother who confirmed the news.
“A shock was sent through my body when she said that,” AJ said.
Learning about Tara’s death devastated the town of Taylor.
“This was a shock to the community, to the whole town of Taylor,” Shumeka said.
Tara’s mother, Linda Johnson, passed away in 2012 without knowing what happened to her daughter. Relatives maintain a Facebook memorial page for Tara and her mother for the community to visit, give their condolences, and send their love.
Project: Cold Case is a not-for-profit organization with an ambitious goal of publicizing all unsolved homicides in the United States while linking information, families and law enforcement and, ultimately, helping to solve cold case.
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.