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Thousands of toys distributed in 15th annual Johnia Berry memorial

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 6, 2019 at 11:24 PM

Tens of thousands of toys collected in memory of a young East Tennessee State University graduate went out to schools and child service organizations across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia on Friday night’s anniversary of her murder.

It was the 15th Christmas season since Johnia Berry was killed by a would-be robber at her Knoxville Apartment that her family has delivered toys for disadvantaged children in her honor.

Investigators found the first of those gifts wrapped and labeled for children Berry worked with at ETSU Little Bucs child care center in the living room of her apartment on the morning of her killing.

Her parents delivered those gifts for her and each year since thing have conducted the Johnia Berry Memorial Toy Drive in partnership with Food City stores from Cumberland, Va., to Greeeneville in honor of Johnia’s desire to help children with special needs.

Her dad, Mike Berry, said Friday he did not know how many toys were contributed to the drive this year but that it was equal to last year’s collection, when more than 3,500 were given to needy children in the communities where the toys are collected. 

Friday night distribution brought the total number of toys provided by supporters of the annual drive to more 40,000.

Johnia’s mother, Joan Berry, said the annual distribution would not be possible without the friends, family members and volunteers who help in the annual memorial.

At the time of her death, 21-year-old Johnia had recently completed her bachelor’s degree in early education at ETSU and enrolled as a child psychology graduate student at University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

The distribution is held each year at the Food City store on South Roan Street, where Johnia shopped while she was a student at ETSU.

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