Dirk Johnson

Stories by Dirk Johnson

  • A Killer's Deadly Aim

    It's small, but lightning fast, coming out of the cannon at 3,000 feet per second. It's available at any neighborhood ammo store, but it's the preferred ordnance of Army riflemen and Olympic sharpshooters. And when it's in the wrong hands, the .223-caliber bullet can be a perfect killing machine, ripping holes the size of coffee cups. In Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, the shots were almost surely fired by an expert, as if picking off clay pigeons a single round at a time. But this was no game. Six people in the Washington area were shot dead--gunfire that seemed to come out of nowhere--a spree so random and terrifying that some people have refused to step outside their doors.On the loose was a killer with a deadly eye and a powerful weapon. The shots have been fired from such long range--as far away as six football fields, police say--that there have been no eyewitnesses. And the aim has been near perfect. This is a "very skilled" marksman, says Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and...
  • From Taco Bell To Al Qaeda

    Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah al-Muhajir, wasn't one of those quiet, sweet kids the neighbors just can't believe got into trouble with the law. Growing up on Chicago's tough West Side in the late '70s and early '80s, young Jose was a known street thug and Latin Disciples gangbanger with an expanding rap sheet. At 15, Padilla and a running buddy mugged a man in the street, taking his money and watch. When the guy tried to chase them down, Padilla's partner stabbed him in the stomach. As he lay bleeding, Padilla kicked him hard in the head, he later told police, because he "felt like it." The victim died. Padilla did a stint in juvenile hall.It's a long way from "juvey" to the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., where Padilla, now 31, is being held as an enemy combatant for his alleged role in a Qaeda dirty-bomb plot. Investigators are still trying to figure out why the Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican Roman Catholic wound up converting to radical Islam and joining ranks with Osama bin La-den in...
  • Until Dust Do Us Part

    Once upon a time, men were treated like indulged children in the house, as women bustled about cleaning, sweeping, cooking. That was 50 years ago, some men say. That was this morning, some women say.Want to start a fight? Ask about housework and the division of labor. For that matter, ask what housework means. Does gardening count? How about running a snow blower?To settle the score, a new study from the University of Michigan examines how the housework burden is shared by women and men. The results: women still do much more than men, though men are getting better (actually, men were getting better until about 1985, and then stalled out). But the real news stood out like a streak of clean glass on a grimy window: nobody really cares that much about housework at all anymore. In 1965 women did 40 hours of housework a week, men a mere 12. Nowadays women are averaging 27 hours; men, closing the gap, average 16. That means housework has decreased even as average house size has ballooned...
  • 'IS THERE TROUBLE WITH JIM?'

    Three years ago, Mindy Greiling sat in a psychologist's office and listened to her son, Jim, talk about wanting to kill her. "I want to shoot you in the face," he said, "because you look so evil." As a boy growing up in suburban Minneapolis, Jim Greiling was a Cub Scout, a Little Leaguer, a math whiz. Now 24, he suffers from schizophrenia, a disease that tortures families as it haunts the ill. Like millions of American families with a sufferer at home -- or one who is off wandering somewhere in the world--Mindy and Roger Greiling are on intimate terms with this disease. They know the helplessness of trying to force treatment on an adult who refuses. They know the grief of letting go of dreams. "When he is young, you think about what the future might be for him," his father said. "It wasn't this."Schizophrenia rains down guilt on some families--old notions held that poor parenting was to blame, with a finger usually pointed at the mother. Today it is believed to have a strong genetic...
  • Unearthing A Grim Tale

    Kicking back in Smokey's, a roadhouse barbecue joint, Brent Marsh flipped through pictures of his new baby daughter, born on Super Bowl Sunday. The owner of the place, Mike Worthington, marveled at Marsh's charmed life. He was a local football hero who went on to play for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the biggest school around. Now, at just 28, he was running his family's successful business--Tri-State Crematory--and serving on several civic boards. He had married a strikingly pretty young woman, Vanessa, celebrating their wedding with a stylish bash on the family's 16-acre wooded spread, where guests frolicked along a private lake.On that very same lake, authorities last week found a skull and a torso floating in the water. Marsh has been jailed, accused of one of the creepiest crimes in Georgia history. Investigators have found nearly 300 corpses at the family property, some stacked in piles--bodies that were supposed to have been cremated by Tri-State. With some of...
  • Wildfires: 'I Didn't Want To Burn To Death'

    As giant flames danced against the Western sky, the young Forest Service firefighters waited for marching orders, hungering for a chance at heroism. It was no secret the crew wanted a piece of the big, bad blaze at Libby Creek, the ferocious fire moving toward 50 homes in the flint-dry northern Cascades. They didn't want to work some wimpy brush fire, some boring mop-up job in the middle of the lonesome Okanogan National Forest. But that was the assignment they drew. "Be patient," said Pete Soderquist, the fire-management officer who gave the orders, as he sensed disappointment. "You'll get your big fire." It was truer than anybody could know. The crew began its work along the skinny Chewuch River about an hour later. Just up the hill, horror waited.It was a rookie-laden crew, largely native sons and daughters of Washington state--firefighters Karen FitzPatrick and Elaine Hurd, both 18, were out of high school barely a month--young people a bit smitten by the romance of a daring,...
  • Lonely Deaths In An Unforgiving Sea

    At sea in Alaska waters, Kerry Egan, the captain's mate on the Arctic Rose fishing vessel, sent an e-mail to his brother, Doug, back home in Minnesota. "Everything here is like a bruise--gray and swelling--typical Bering Sea," he wrote. "Talk to you when I can." He added, "P.S. ETA at BG's 5/14." He was referring to his estimated time of arrival at a bar and grill in his hometown, where friends and family would toast his return and listen to his stories about the 92-foot trawler and its crew of 15 hearty souls, cowboys of the sea. Doug, who had lived all of his 55 years in rural Minnesota, loved to hear Kerry, a wiry 45-year-old with a bushy mustache, recount his adventures and describe the wonders he had witnessed on a fishing boat: whales breaching in pairs, bear cubs frolicking along the shore, snow-frosted mountains that stretched so magnificently toward the heavens that they inspired him to write poetry. And the older brother cringed when he heard Kerry say, in a matter-of-fact...