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Brain tumor claims former Jefferson police officer

May 27, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- Mark Johnston was battling a brain tumor, but he also was living his life, right to the end.

The former Jefferson County police officer had been filling out necessary documents for family affairs, and he remained as active as he could despite his medical prognosis.

And as always, his humor still was there, his friends in the law enforcement community said.

Friends on Wednesday remembered Johnston. Jefferson County Sheriff Robert E. "Bobby" Shirley said Johnston recently showed him a picture of his tumor.

Shirley said Johnston commented on its small size and suggested it might be his brain.

"He was just that kind of guy," Shirley said Wednesday.

About four years after he initially was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Johnston died Wednesday at his home on Engle Switch Road. The tumor came back after it had shrunk and become inactive, Jefferson County Magistrate Gail Boober said.

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A community that watched Johnston deal with the disease, then make a comeback, was overcome with grief Wednesday with the news that Johnston was gone.

"I never had to go through anything like this in my life," said Ranson Police Department Sgt. Todd Lutman, who considered Johnston his best friend. "Those types of things aren't supposed to happen to people like him."

"Everyone is very solemn and sad," said former Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober, Gail Boober's husband, who worked with Johnston.

In 2005, Johnston, a former Charles Town Police Department captain, thought he was suffering from a sinus infection and decided to have some tests conducted. Doctors discovered Johnston was suffering from a brain tumor and because it was at the base of his brain, they could not remove it through surgery.

Johnston underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments and was told he had three to six months to live.

But there were bright moments in the battle.

The tumor reduced in size after the treatments and Johnston said doctors later extended his life expectancy by two years.

From the bed, Johnson moved to a walker to get around, then a cane. He finally began walking on his own and the muscular Johnston -- who once weighed 305 pounds and was able to squat 700 pounds -- had returned to the gym for workouts to build his strength.

"I tell you, it's a miracle," Johnston said in an interview last July. "The highest doctors can't explain it."

And in another accomplishment in his survival, Johnston, who retired from the Charles Town Police Department after his diagnosis, returned to law enforcement last summer when he began working part time at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department to help run the department's home confinement program.

But Johnston was dealt another setback when the tumor came back and he no longer could keep coming to work toward the end of last year, Boober said Wednesday.

Johnston had around-the-clock care at his home over the last month. He died Wednesday about noon, Boober said.

"It's a sad day for the community," Charles Town Police Chief Barry Subelsky said as he reflected on Johnston's life. "I think you will see a tremendous outpouring at his funeral."

Funeral services will be Saturday at Covenant Baptist Church on Flowing Springs Road outside of Shepherdstown, W.Va., although a time had not been set Wednesday afternoon, police said.

Officials were planning to park cruisers from the Charles Town Police Department, Ranson Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff's Department at the traffic circle on Fairfax Boulevard in Ranson on Wednesday afternoon to pay tribute to Johnston and the police departments for which he worked, Shirley said.

The cars, which will be draped in black fabric, will remain there until after Johnston is buried in Pleasant View Memory Gardens along W.Va. 9 in Berkeley County, Shirley said.

Shirley said plans are being made to carry Johnston's body past the Charles Town and Ranson police departments as he is being taken to the cemetery.

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