FORT COLLINS, Colo.— Kristen Johnson looks back on the last five years with gratitude.
“It is kind of surreal to think but wow,” she said.
Johnson walked across the stage Friday to receive her diploma, graduating with a master’s degree in social work from Colorado State University.
“So very gratifying to be here today honoring the program, what it meant, our project, which we were very proud of,” the graduate said.
Before she graduated, Johnson had to complete a capstone project. The focus was on law enforcement and was a tribute, Johnson says, to the Fort Collins Police Department, which saved her stepdaughter's life five years ago.
“In 2017, my daughter was shot. And luckily, there were officers that responded immediately,” said Johnson. “That they had such a rapid response time is why she survived.”
The shooting happened at Sunstone Apartments near CSU’s campus. Three people died, including 22-year-old student Savannah McNealy. The sole survivor was Johnson’s stepdaughter, Megan Dierker, who was 21 at the time.
“They packed her with combat gauze in her wound and escorted her to the ambulance," said Johnson.
For their capstone project, Johnson and her team examined the impact of public perception on law enforcement recruitment and retention.
“Law enforcement is one of those areas, I think, we don’t think about needing them until we need them, and I just want to make sure they’re always there and feel supported,” said Johnson.
She was inspired after seeing the sacrifices made by the two officers who ran toward gunfire that tragic day in 2017.
“The two officers that were there to save Megan came to our defense presentation December 2,” said Johnson.
Five years later, Megan is living life to her fullest.
“She’s amazing. She’s my hero, no doubt. She doesn’t let a lot slow her down," said the proud stepmother. "She’s in PA school in Oregon.”
“If the shooting hadn’t happened, you think you’d be sitting here today?” asked Denver7 anchor Amy Wadas.
“I think I’d be sitting here today but it wouldn’t be as meaningful," Johnson responded.
Johnson currently works in pharmaceutical research but says she’d love to incorporate mental health care for law enforcement specifically to treat trauma.