Hero Who Stopped Domestic Terrorist at FRC: God Prevented Me from Killing Him

Penny Starr | September 19, 2013 | 5:38pm EDT
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Leo Johnson, business operations manager at the Family Research Council, who was shot on Aug. 12, 2012 by now-convicted domestic terrorist Floyd Lee Corkins II. Johnson is seen here outside the U.S. District Court for D.C. at the sentencing of Corkins on Sept. 19, 2013.

(CNSNews.com) – Leo Johnson, building operations manager at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C, was filling in for unarmed security personnel at the organization's front desk on Aug. 15, 2012 when Floyd Lee Corkins, 29, entered the building, brandishing a gun, and planning to commit mass murder.

Johnson was shot in the arm while subduing Corkins, taking away his gun, and preventing him from harming anyone else.

"I would give credit to my faith for everything that has happened from that point up until now," Johnson said in an interview today with CNSNews.com. "I had an opportunity during that altercation when I got the gun from Mr. Corkins to take his life, and it was God who spoke to me and told me to not take his life, to spare his life. And, you know, I've never regretted that decision.

Corkins was sentenced today to 25 years in prison by the U.S. District Court for D.C. He had been convicted of three felony charges, including terrorism, for his attack on the FRC.

After he was arrested, Corkins told the FBI he selected the FRC as a target after finding it listed as an "anti-gay" group on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC included the FRC on a "hate map" on its website.

Here is CNSNews.com interview with Johnson:

CNSNews.com: Leo how do you feel about the sentence, do you think justice has been served?

Leo: I think, overall, justice has been served. It's not quite what we were looking for but, overall, all things considered, we are pleased with the decision.

CNSNews.com: What was it like in the courtroom, his response to your statement and Tony Perkins’ response in the courtroom?

Leo: He seemed a little remorseful, a lot mot more so than when I first encountered him and it appears he had some time to--I guess he's medicated and thought about his actions and he's had some time to think about that so he seemed a little more contrite.

CNSNews.com: And what about you? You've been through a lot, you were injured and there's been a lot of media attention. I wonder how you're doing and what's the most profound moment or lesson from your experience that you can share with us?

Leo: I'm doing well, I've recently been given a clean bill of health by my doctor, so the bone has healed although there is some residual effects from it and I'll probably always have those. But overall it has been really tough dealing with myself and my family. We've had to deal with not only the shooting but health issues with my mother and grandmother who I've been supporting and taking care of for most of my adult life. So it's been a struggle for us.

CNSNews.com: So, you are still employed by FRC, correct?

Leo: Yes, I am.

CNSNews.com: What are you doing now, are you still at the front desk or do you have another?

Leo: Well, at the time of the shooting, I was the building operations manager, I was sort of filling in part-time as the security, but my main role here was the building operations manager.

Floyd Corkins, now a convicted terrorist, is taken into custody outside the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 15, 2012. (AP Photo)

CNSNews.com: So you were there -- you may not have been there had it been a normal day and the other person was there, it was a fill in day for you?

Leo: Yes, had it been maybe 15 minutes later, I would not have been there.

CNSNews.com: What role did your faith in God play both during the attack and since then?

Leo: I would give credit to my faith for everything that has happened from that point up until now. I had an opportunity during that altercation when I got the gun from Mr. Corkins to take his life. And it was God who spoke to me and told me to not take his life, to spare his life and, you know, I've never regretted that decision. It sort of gave me a whole new perspective on life and just treating people differently and letting them know that you care about them. Let's not just let it be a situation where there's a tragedy to let people know that you care that, you know, you support them. So it's just given me a whole new perspective on life, a whole new outlook.

CNSNews.com: So you believe God told you that killing him, even in that desperate moment, wasn't the right thing to do?

Leo: Even in that desperate moment. Everything sort of slowed down for me and I was thinking clearly and I was enraged at one point because I looked at my arm for the first time and I felt the pain finally when the adrenaline had sort of worn off, and in that very moment I looked at him and I was enraged. I was filled with rage. I put my finger on the trigger. I was prepared to shoot, I was prepared to kill him,  then the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘Don't kill him.’ And just as quickly as that rage came over me, it dissipated.

CNSNews.com: Do you have feelings about the discussions of why this man was driven to do this and one of the things that's not being reported right now, and we will be reporting on, is the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated FRC as a hate group. How do you feel about that?

Leo: Well, I’ve worked here at FRC for 14 years. I know the type of people they are and the type of work that they do, so to be labeled a hate group, it's senseless to me. It makes no sense. As I stated earlier, I was in a position where I retrieved the weapon from Mr. Corkins. Had I been a hateful person, I would have taken his life. I had an opportunity to do so and I was well within my rights to do so. I chose to let him live. That's not the act of a person that's filled with hate.

CNSNews.com: And the people you work with you believe would've reached the same conclusion?

Leo: Absolutely, absolutely.

CNSNews.com: What would you say to Mr. Corkins if you can have a private conversation with him at this point? The time has passed, you know he is going to pay for his crime, moreover people won't be threatened by him again. But if you had a chance to speak with him, do you know what you might say to him?

Leo Johnson (left), business operations manager at the Family Research Council, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council outside the courthouse on the day of Floyd Corkins' sentencing, Sept. 19, 2013.

Leo: Well, actually, I had a chance to speak with him in the courtroom, or speak to him, not one-on-one, but I did speak with him. And I told him that, while I won't ever forget what he did to me and my family, I forgive him. And I stated that if he didn't have a relationship with the Lord, he should seek one. If he did, he should pray to him every day and thank him because the Lord not only saved my life, he saved his life as well.

CNSNews.com: So you are back doing the job, I mean was there ever any thought of leaving FRC after that because you -- of the trauma, I mean why did you decide to stay on?

Leo: Well, this is my job, this is what I love to do. I've been here for 14 years, as I've stated, the last five, six years as the buildings operations manager. And I love my job and I had no abberations at all about coming back. I was excited and was very much looking forward to coming back.”

In a statement given at the sentencing hearing, FRC President Tony Perkins praised Johnson and described the terror on that day and beyond.

“We are grateful for Leo’s extraordinary actions, but are pained by his injury and pray for his full recovery,” Perkins said. “Yet every day many on our team are reminded of the attack and relive the trauma.”

“Our family members are reminded every day that they may have lost a family member that day had Leo not intervened,” Perkins said.

Law enforcement officials also praised Johnson in a press release issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“A security guard’s heroism is the only thing that prevented Floyd Corkins II from carrying out a mass shooting intended to kill as many people as possible,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen. “Our entire community is thankful to the hero who stood up to this heinous attack.”

“Today’s 25-year prison sentence demonstrates the steep price to be paid for turning to violence to terrorize your political enemies,” Machen said.

“Acts of terrorism, like the one that Mr. Corkins admitted to committing in pursuit of political aim, are horrific events that instill a sense of fear on our community,” said Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge at the FBI. “The FBI applauds the heroic acts of the security guard who deterred Mr. Corkins from inflicting harm on additional victims.”

Both Johnson and Perkins cited Corkins’ admission to police that he had used the Southern Poverty Law Center’s  (SPLC) “hate groups” list, which includes the FRC, to target the Christian organization.

Johnson told CNSNews.com that he knew the content of the character of the people at FRC who he has worked with for more than a decade. In court, Perkin’s addressed the SPLC’s list.

The "Hate Map" on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lists the Family Research Council as "anti-gay."

“On February 6, prosecutors revealed that Mr. Corkins had obtained our building location from the South Poverty Law Center’s website,” Perkins said. “He was clearly inspired by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s labeling of FRC as a ‘hate group’ based on our belief that marriage can only take place between one man and one woman.”

While being interrogated by the FBI after his arrest, Corkins said he learned about the FRC online at the website of the SPLC. “It was a, uh, Southern Poverty Law, lists anti-gay groups. I found them online. I did a little bit of research, went to the website, stuff like that.”

Also, the court filing’s “Statement of Offense” for United States of America v. Floyd Lee Corkins II reads,  “He was a political activist and considered the FRC a lobbying group. He committed the shooting for political reasons. He had identified the FRC as an anti-gay organization on the Southern Poverty Law Center Website.” (See Floyd Lee Corkins II - Unstamped Statement of Offense.pdf)

According to the “Statement of Offense,” assault with intent to kill is an “act of terrorism,” if it is committed with the requisite intent. As it states: “On August 15, 2012, the defendant assaulted [security guard Leo] Johnson and the FRC with the intent to intimidate or coerce a significant portion of the civilian population of the District of Columbia and/or the United Sattes; namely, any and all individuals associated with or supporting the FRC, like-mided organizations, or otherwise holding beliefs contrary to or advocating against gay marriage.”

In an interview with the FBI following the shooting, as provided in the “Statement of Offense,” Corkins said that “(1) intended to enter the FRC that day to kill as many people as possible and smother Chick-fil-A sandwiches in their faces; (2) he intended to kill the guard who confronted him in the lobby (i.e., Johnson); and (3) he had taken substantial steps in the preceding week in furtherance of carrying out the crimes.”

In a press release today, the FBI noted that Corkins’ sentence marks the first time that a defendant has been charged with and convicted of committing an act of terrorism under a provision of the District of Columbia’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002 that covers criminal actions committed with the intent to “intimidate or coerce a significant portion of the civilian population of the District of Columbia or the United States.”

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