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Family Seeks Closure After Father Is Burned To Death

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – On May 29, a passer-by found 58-year-old Richard Johnson under a bridge near Dunwoody Avenue in Minneapolis.

He was on fire. Johnson died two weeks later.

Police initially ruled Johnson’s death a suicide, but the medical examiner could not determine how he was killed. Johnson’s family believes other factors were involved.

“I never heard him complain about anything. About being homeless, about not having no money. He just wasn’t that type of guy,”

Richard Johnson may have been homeless, but according to his sister Barb Snyder, he wasn’t helpless.

“He was a good brother, a good uncle, a good brother in law. My husband loved him,” Snyder said.

Richard Miller says his dad was kind and caring, but was an alcoholic. By choice, he quit coming around when he was 17 years old.

“I just think it all just comes down to where he didn’t want to be a burden on the family,” Miller said.

So Richard Johnson, known as Rick to his family, chose to live under the 394 bridge.

For eight years, Richard Miller didn’t see his father and wondered where he was. However, one night in late May, Miller pulled up to this intersection and recognized the man holding a “homeless” sign.

“Gave him a few bucks like a kid should. Helped the dad out. Told him that he had a granddaughter and he just lit up like a Christmas tree. He was all excited,” Miller said.

But Rick never got to meet his granddaughter. A couple days later after their chance meeting, a passer-by found him on fire. Rick was rushed to the hospital with burns on over 70 percent of his body.

He died a couple weeks later after being taken off life support.

‘Just tough, just knowing that I had to pull the plug on my dad. Almost like the end of the world to me,” Miller said.

What made it even more difficult was the mystery surrounding his father’s death. Police initially ruled it a suicide, but the family disagrees.

“When I talked to my dad, he was happy. He didn’t act like he had a concern in the world. He just wouldn’t set himself on fire,” he said.

Rick’s family believes someone else may have been involved. And until they know for sure, they’ll keep searching for answers.

“Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten. We love him,” Barb said.

A couple weeks ago the Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled that they could not determine the manor of death in which Rick Johnson died.

Police say it’s still an open case, listed right now as a suicide. But if they hear from another witness or some type of surveillance video comes forward, the investigation could change.

They are offering a $1,000 reward for any information that may lead to some kind of closure

Johnson’s family doesn’t want people to judge him just because he was homeless.

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