FLORENCE, Ky. - It’s hard for Phil Johnson to keep his emotions in check when it comes to his granddaughter. But tears aside, Sunday morning was about riding his hog, feeling the wind rush by his face, the sun on his back, and remembering his "lil’ skunkoid" and all the good times they shared during her 15 years.
If she walked through the door today, he said that he would ask, “How’s my lil’ skunkoid?” Phil said with a smile.
It was an inside joke between them. Every time he would see a skunk on the side of the road, he would tell her "Hey, I saw someone from your family today on the road.” She would respond with, “Was it an aunt or an uncle?” He laughed, remembering how they joked around with each other all the time.
"She was my best buddy and I'm going to miss her so much. I don't think I'll ever get over this," he said.
So to honor his "best buddy," he came out to ride, as did about 50 bikers at the Boone County American Legion in Florence, Ky.
They revved up to remember his 15-year-old granddaughter, Chelsea Johnson, the Fairfield, Ohio, teen who was found stabbed to death, and left in a creek about a mile from her home, after she was reported missing in April.
"Everybody ready?!" yelled Ana Kincart, the ride’s organizer, as she stood in the middle of the sea of purple shirts situated on their motorcycles. Purple was Chelsea’s favorite color.
Phil wore a sleeveless airbrushed shirt, with the word “Granddaughter” written in cursive across his chest and with a photo of the teen underneath the letters. He said that he hopes the ride helps to keep her spirit alive.
"For me, this was to keep her in my heart and mind and hopefully in the heart and minds of other people," Phil said wearing a matching purple doo-rag on his head.
It takes a unique person, like his Chelsea to ride, Phil said.
"Somewhere in your heart you have to be a free spirit in order to ride and that's what my granddaughter was. And there's nothing anymore fitting than to have this ride in her honor," Phil said.
"When you're out there and you feel the wind and the sun, especially when you're driving a beautiful ride like we're going to be doing today, you feel those that you miss with you," agreed Kincart.
Phil could not believe the reason he was riding in a memorial for his slain granddaughter.
"She just loved life. And for it to be taken in such a brutal way that it was at 15… I just can't comprehend it sometimes," he said.
"I keep waiting for her to come through the door one of these times… but it's not going to happen... sorry...,” he said crying, quickly swiping away a tear from underneath his sunglasses and sniffling, wiping his nose.
"She never met a stranger. Everybody was her friend as soon as she met them. She would go out of her way to help people. She was just the best little girl, granddaughter you could hope for," he said.
He knew her better than most since he spent most summers with Chelsea, who wanted to be a veterinarian.
In fact one summer, he said that he was cutting the grass with a riding mower when she did all that she could to stop him.
“She come out screaming and throwing rocks at me to get my attention for me to stop because she was afraid I was going to run over the little rabbits. So I had to cut around it and the grass grew up a foot tall 'til the babies got big enough to move and then I was allowed to cut the grass," chuckled the grandfather remembering what a caring person she was to people and animals.
It's memories like those that will accompany him on the road ahead without Chelsea.
Police said that a man, George Davis, 24, who sent Chelsea several text messages until the day that she disappeared, is being held at the Butler County Jail.
He has been charged with importuning and drug trafficking.
Davis sent multiple text messages to the teen before she died offering to exchange heroin for sex, according to police. However, Davis has not been charged with her murder. Police said his case is expected to go to the grand jury in the upcoming weeks.
Organizers of Sunday's benefit said the ride is for Chelsea and to bring peace, love and prayers to her family.
Money raised will go to the family to help with funeral expenses.
One by one, the motorcycles roared out of the American Legion parking lot and down U.S. 42 on their way to a 90-mile tribute to Chelsea.
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