The cracks in Eric and Beth Johnson's marriage first appeared after their daughter's birth. They deepened last summer as Beth Johnson sought...
BEDFORD, Ind. — The cracks in Eric and Beth Johnson’s marriage first appeared after their daughter’s birth. They deepened last summer as Beth Johnson sought a divorce, and a restraining order amid allegations her husband had held her at gunpoint in an effort to change her mind.
Despite the strain between them, everyone was sure that if nothing else, both parents loved the girl.
Those who knew the family were stunned, then, to learn that police believe Eric Johnson deliberately crashed a single-engine Cessna he was piloting into his former mother-in-law’s house Monday, killing himself and his 8-year-old daughter, Emily.
“I couldn’t believe he could do something like this, because he did love the little girl,” longtime neighbor Mary Webb said Tuesday.
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His former mother-in-law, Vivian Pace, told reporters outside her damaged home Tuesday that her daughter, Beth Johnson, reached him on his cellphone shortly before the crash.
“I’ve got her, and you’re not going to get her,” Eric Johnson said, according to Pace.
“She could hear Emily in the background: ‘Mommy, come get me, come get me,’ ” Pace said.
It was unclear whether the call was made from the cockpit or before the plane took off.
State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said eyewitness accounts of the plane’s movements just before the crash and the fact that the home belonged to his ex-wife’s mother raised serious questions. The couple’s November divorce also may have been a factor, he said.
“All of those things together lead us in the direction that this was done intentionally,” Bursten said.
Eric Johnson, a forestry manager for the state, obtained his pilot’s license in November, the same month the couple divorced after 12 years of marriage.
Pace said the couple’s relationship began to change after the birth of Emily, whom her grandmother described as a “feisty” girl who liked Cinderella, basketball and volleyball.
“He didn’t get all the attention,” Pace said. “Before that, he got all of Beth’s attention.”
Court records showed Beth Johnson obtained a restraining order against him last July 14, but the court did not disclose the reasons.
Pace said Eric Johnson threatened his wife with a gun last summer, while Emily was in Iowa with relatives, in an effort to change her mind about the divorce. Bedford police said they never received a complaint about that.
Webb, who lived across from the Johnsons for about 12 years, said Eric Johnson moved out in the fall under police supervision and was “very bitter about the divorce.”
The couple shared custody of Emily, alternating weekends, according to court records. Eric Johnson was supposed to take Emily to school Monday after a week’s vacation together in Cancun.
When she didn’t arrive, Beth Johnson went to the Bedford Police Department to file a missing-person report, unaware of the crash at her mother’s home.