85-year-old Grandmother’s Home Burglarized As She Slept – But Angels Kept Watch

The child-sized white angel with her face turned skyward has held her horn-blowing pose for a month to celebrate Christmas from the top of 85-year-old Darliene Johnson’s rooftop.

If only the angel could have trumpeted a warning. After all, the angel had the perfect vantage point to see exactly what happened at Johnson’s house early New Year’s Eve morning in her subdivision off Gold Street in west Redding.

The story begins Tuesday night. Johnson sometimes can’t sleep, and when that happens, she usually gets up and goes downstairs to her office where she’ll log onto the computer, organize her files, or write.

But for some reason – which Wednesday morning Johnson described as a “God thing” – Tuesday night was different. She was awakened by some noises around 2 a.m., but thought it was just the wind. By then, she was wide awake with that familiar, restless feeling.

“I was lying there and couldn’t sleep, so I was thinking of getting up and going downstairs, which is what I’d usually do,” Johnson said from her purple-and-lavender hued living room where a cold breeze blew through her front door’s broken stained glass windows.

“But all of a sudden, I felt this amazing peace, and I just went back to sleep.”

As Johnson fell into a deep slumber upstairs, someone ransacked and burglarized  her home downstairs.

She now knows that the noise she heard earlier was the sound of her front door’s glass panels being shattered, which is how the burglar then reached through, opened the door and gained access to the inside of her home.

When Johnson awoke Wednesday morning –  unaware of the mayhem below – she puttered around upstairs with some chores before she came downstairs at about 8 a.m.

The first thing she noticed was her front door was wide open, that its stained glass was smashed, and shattered glass littered the floor. The next thing she saw was in the kitchen, where the door to the garage was ajar, which showed an empty space where her 2004 BMW with the personalized license plates – JOY11U (joy to you) – should have been. Her purse and keys were also gone.

As Johnson looked around her home, the evidence of disarray showed that whoever broke into her home while she slept had roamed freely from room to room, where they pawed through files and drawers and took what they wanted.

She called her oldest daughter and youngest son, both of whom called 911.

Whoever stole Johnson’s purse had tried almost immediately to use her credit cards, and there were transaction attempts from a Redding 7-11 store and Safeway gas station. Police told Johnson it might be a while before they could get time stamps and surveillance footage of the transactions, but in the meantime the best thing for her to do was notify her banks and credit card companies of the theft, and void all the accounts, which she did.

Johnson is the widow of the late Earl Johnson, Bethel Church’s beloved elder pastor.

Darliene Johnson and her late husband, Earl Johnson.

She is the mother of four, grandmother to 17 and great-grandmother to 25.

Darliene Johnson with her four children, from left, Wendi Simas, Bob Johnson, Jacque Grubbs and Bill Johnson.

Johnson is the kind of woman who is “cool” enough to actually encourage her grandsons to have long hair, and she adores the look of a well-kept head of dreadlocks. She is an accomplished pianist. She has a massive souvenir spoon collection that she allows the little kids to play with. Sometimes her arms literally ache from holding babies, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Darliene Johnson holds one of her 25 great-grandchildren.

She is an avid text-messager, emailer, Facebook-poster and computer-user. She’s written and self-published a cookbook of her most frequently requested family recipes, including one for her signature cinnamon rolls. For Thanksgiving and Christmas morning, she bakes about 140 of those cinnamon rolls as part of her family’s tradition, enjoyed by her kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Johnson’s home where elaborate Christmas decorations and 70 nativity scenes would rival most department store windows.

She doesn’t believe in baby- or toddler-proofing,  even when 25 little kids under the age of 10 are in her home. It’s no big deal if something breaks. There’s always glue.

She has such a fondness for angels that even during the non-Christmas time of the year, she is surrounded about 200 angels of every size, color and material. During the holidays her angel collection swells to about 400, including an all-angel Christmas tree near the front door.

Her love of angels is because she believes in angels.

“Oh, there are real angels here, too. I really think Jesus and angels were protecting me,” Johnson said Wednesday morning from her home, abuzz with people coming and going. Her cell phone and land line rang every few minutes.

Son Bob Johnson had left to buy plywood to cover the door’s broken glass. Daughter Jacque Grubbs was taking and making calls on her mother’s behalf to everyone from the police department to insurance companies. Grandson Eric Johnson and grandson-in-law Daniel Miller stopped by to hug Johnson and see if she needed anything.

A locksmith arrived to re-key Johnson’s locks, since the burglars had her house keys. The man said his business gets about a call a day to do exactly what he was doing at Johnson’s home after a break-in. He admitted that while glass doors can make for an easier entrance, criminals can simply smash windows, too.

“If they really want to come in, they’ll usually find a way,” he said.

In retrospect, Johnson remembered the day before Thanksgiving, when one of her granddaughters noticed that a piece of stained glass was broken on the side of the front door – the side opposite from the doorknob.

“There was glass on the floor, but I thought maybe maybe it was from a broken ornament off my angel tree,” Johnson said.

She now wonders if whoever broke the glass the day before Thanksgiving was the same person who broke the glass the day before New Year’s.  Maybe they tried and gave up, but returned for a second try.

Was Johnson angry? No. Was she scared? Not in the least.

She felt at peace, and grateful to be alive.

To sum up her philosophy about people who victimize others, Johnson recalled a story of when she and her late husband were on a trip to Paris many years ago. Her wallet was stolen, including $1,000 she’d saved and brought along to buy gifts. At first, she was distraught, until her husband – who’s been gone nearly 11 years, and who she misses every day –  put the situation in perspective.

“Earl said we could have a pity party, or we could be glad we’re not them, and pray for them,” she said.

So Wednesday morning, that’s what Johnson did. She prayed for whoever smashed her front door window, broke into her home and stole her money, credit cards, check book, her late husband’s wallet and her car.

She prayed for whoever opened her mail box and ripped through Christmas cards, letters and bills, some of which were found later scattered around Johnson’s shrubs, along with some savings bond certificates and a skateboard.

She prayed for whoever emptied her purse and tossed it in a nearby ravine where neighbors later found it.

“Oh, they’ll have an encounter with God,” she said with a laugh that crinkled her large blue eyes. “I don’t have to worry about it. When I walked in my office and saw all the drawers open, I thought, ‘Oh those poor people.’ ”

As she talked, Johnson’s cell phone chirped again. She sighed and smiled as she looked down to read a text message.

“People are praying for me,” she said as she paused to text a reply. “I’ll say thank you. But really, I’m fine. I’m not hurt. Nothing precious was taken, and even if it was, it’s just stuff.”

While her daughter agreed, Grubbs said her family will make sure her mother’s home is equipped with an alarm system. Grubbs said while she appreciates her mother’s refusal to live in fear, that mindset must be balanced with the reality that in this world, sometimes people do bad things to good people.

“Thank goodness they didn’t go upstairs, or that mommy didn’t come downstairs,” she said. “I’m mad. That’s my mom! She’s almost 86 years old. How dare they? Why don’t they pick on someone their own size?”

A call came from the police department. An officer had located Johnson’s car parked intact on Shasta between Willis and Magnolia streets. Johnson’s change purse was inside, in which someone had stuffed all Johnson’s credit and bank cards, but were of course now useless, because they’d been cancelled. Her car keys were still missing, which meant it would be towed for re-keying to Chico’s BMW dealership.

As her daughter talked to the police about the car, Johnson wondered if the burglars had read any of the words and scriptures displayed on plaques on Johnson’s walls.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord …

Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal …

Love. Blessings. Joy. 

“Will what happened this morning change me? Of course not,” Johnson said.

“I’ve never felt afraid in my life. But I do feel bad for whoever did this. I’m OK, but they definitely need Jesus.”

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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