Hero Grandpa Dies Protecting Wife and Granddaughter in El Paso Shooting: 'He Had a Big Heart'

David Johnson was shopping with his wife, Kathy Johnson, and their granddaughter, Kaitlyn Melendez, on Saturday morning when shots rang out

David Johnson
Photo: Raul Melendez/ Facebook

A 63-year-old Texas man died a hero while preventing his wife and 9-year-old granddaughter from being gunned down in the El Paso massacre Saturday.

David Johnson was shopping with his wife, Kathy Johnson, and their granddaughter, Kaitlyn Melendez, on Saturday morning when shots rang out.

“My father-in-law, David, pushed my mother-in-law and daughter out of the way so that they could hide,” Raul Melendez, 34, of El Paso, tells PEOPLE.“That’s when he was hit.”

His father-in-law, he says, “acted as a hero. He saved my daughter and I can never thank him enough for it.”

El Paso shooting victim David Johnson

Johnson was one of 22 people killed in Saturday’s mass shooting, say the El Paso Police, who had to update the death toll Monday from 20.

Police and first responders arrived at the Cielo Vista Mall at 10:45 a.m. – six minutes after receiving frantic calls about an active shooter, Police Chief Greg Allen said.

With the busy back-to-school shopping season underway, the store was near capacity, with as many as 3,000 people inside, according to multiple outlets.

In addition to the 22 people killed, 24 were injured.

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In a shocking turn of events, the El Paso shooting occurred less than 24 hours before a gunman opened fire on a Dayton, Ohio, street with a busy nightlife scene, killing nine people and wounding 27. The gunman was killed by police less than a minute after he began his shooting spree.

In the Texas shooting, Patrick Crusius, 21, of Allen, a Dallas suburb more than 600 miles from El Paso, was taken into custody after surrendering to police.

He allegedly drove more than 10 hours to the site of the shooting before unleashing his torrent of horror, said police.

Authorities are investigating the massacre as a hate crime.

A source close to the investigation told PEOPLE authorities were looking at a manifesto with white nationalist themes which may have been written by the suspect. According to the law enforcement source, the manifesto expressed support for the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand in which 49 people were killed as they prayed in mosques.

At the Saturday press conference, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar addressed “this emerging narrative that we’re seeing throughout our country as to domestic terrorism.”

“El Paso has historically been a very safe community,” Escobar said. “This is someone who came from outside our community to do us harm.”

He ‘Will Be Missed’

When Melendez learned that his father-in-law had been shot, he raced to the scene.

He found his daughter and mother-in-law more than two hours later, since roads to the mall had been closed down and his daughter and mother-in-law were transported to another location.

They prayed that Johnson was OK.

Hours after the shooting, Melendez wrote on Facebook, “Today my father in law David Johnson saved my daughter and my mother in law by using himself as a shield so they wouldn’t get hurt now we are still waiting to find out if he is ok. My daughter is alive because of you david please be ok…”

Shortly after, they learned that Johnson had lost his life.

“This man sacrificed himself for my daughter and mother in law,” Melendez wrote on Facebook Sunday. “I can never be able to thank him for doing that you will be missed and never forgotten RIP David…”

The family is reeling from Johnson’s death and will remember him as a brave and selfless man.

“He was a great person,” says Melendez. “He loved everybody. He always made sure everyone was OK.”

“There was never a moment where we weren’t laughing or joking. He had a big heart.”

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