St. Thomas, family honor slain grad with scholarship fund to help students travel the world

Family, friends, former classmates, and the University of St. Thomas community are remembering and honoring Charlie Johnson, who had a passion for travel and adventure and a knack for bringing people from different backgrounds together.

The graduate-to-be was shot hours before he was to receive his engineering diploma in May. Now, the university is making sure scores of other students will be able to travel in Charlie’s footsteps by taking their studies across the globe.

Veronique Johnson, Charlie’s mother, explained to FOX 9 that she wants to celebrate the way her son lived life to the fullest, "It’s not focusing on violence. It’s focusing on joy and love in life."

Charlie’s parents knew they had to do something to help heal their shattered hearts by helping others.

"He developed a compassion for people, and every interaction he had with people, he tried to leave them in a positive place," said Greg Johnson, Charlie’s dad.

Charlie grew up in a dual culture, two-language home.

"He is with us every day," said Veronique, who is a native of France.

The Johnsons encouraged Charlie to seek out adventure, see the world, and to tear down any barriers to unity. And that’s exactly what he did.

Charlie Johnson

As a mechanical engineering student at the university, Charlie participated in study abroad programs in Rome and New Zealand. Another project in Peru was cancelled because of the pandemic. And a day before he was killed last May, graduation weekend, Charlie signed up for a reforestation effort in Brazil.

"We know that made Charlie a better friend to his friends," Greg Johnson said. "Those experiences made him a better citizen and they made him a better engineer."

Tragically, Charlie was an innocent victim, struck by stray gunfire in an apparent shootout in downtown Minneapolis. Another 8 people were injured outside the Monarch nightclub. 

His family and the university have since launched The Charlie Fund in his name, to open study abroad opportunities to all UST engineering students.

And with the school’s 7th annual Tommie Give Day on Tuesday, November 9, the goal is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to pursue their academic dreams, no matter where their studies may take them.

"The whole idea behind this fund is that it’s in perpetuity. Charlie had such an incredible trajectory in life. Such incredible spirit. We want to capture that with this fund, forever. Not just next year, forever," explained Don Weinkauf, Dean of the St. Thomas Engineering School.

"The notion of having a permanent legacy that reflects the values of how Charlie lived and provides that to decades of students in the future is powerful for us. I think it’s very healing," Greg Johnson added.