MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — College friends of 21-year-old Charlie Johnson remember him as someone who was “always living in the moment.”

Charlie was killed the same day he was set to graduate from the University of St. Thomas. He was one of two people shot outside of Monarch Nightclub in downtown Minneapolis at about 2 a.m. Saturday — struck by a stray bullet as two people started shooting at each other.

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Jon May met Charlie his freshman year at UST.

“He was always just this bright light for me every single day,” Jon said.

They were both mechanical engineering students, which was a rigorous degree they got through together.

“Honestly, I don’t think I would have made it through four years without him,” Jon said. “I mean, he was incredibly smart and he helped teach me so many things that I needed to know to get through these four years.”

Andrew Johnson found Charlie on UST’s campus at a time when he needed him most.

(credit: The Johnson Family)

“My sophomore year was just, you know, everybody kind of just has their personal issues, and Charlie just was a godsend, and he came into my life just at the perfect time,” Andrew said.

While these friends were all the same year in school, they looked up to Charlie as a role model.

“We both kind of shared some anxiety issues and … just seeing how he deals with those things in his everyday life just really inspired me,” Andrew said.

On Saturday, Charlie’s sister, Camille, accepted his diploma from UST on his behalf. An empty chair with just a cap and gown sat on the football field in his honor.

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“Graduation day was just full of so many waves of emotion, of wanting the joy of celebration, but the sadness of not having, you know, our best friend there with us,” Jon said.

These friends are now entering the adult world with heavy hearts, but a changed perspective.

“You have to live every day as authentically as you can, and the people that you love, you have to tell them that you love them,” Jon said.

These friends plan to make sure Charlie is never forgotten.

“I can’t wait for one day to tell my kids about their Uncle Charlie,” Andrew said.

Charlie’s father shared a picture of his son on Facebook with the mantra “I am Charlie” written across the photo. He’s asking people to continue to live with love and compassion as his son did.

In a statement, the dean of the UST School of Engineering the entire school is “grieving over the loss of Charlie Johnson.”

“The impact of Charlie’s death is unmeasurable. He was truly a beloved member of our community. Outgoing, friendly, positive, jovial and loving. Classmates, staff and faculty rejoiced in what Charlie brought to our work together. He loved his study abroad experiences in New Zealand, Rome and just completed his Senior Design Clinic project with the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development in Peru. He was one of those students who individually made St. Thomas that much better of a place to study and thrive. This is a tremendous loss. We will be honored to share in the celebration of his life and are committed to carrying on his legacy to make a difference in the world.”

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Marielle Mohs