When Tiffany Hassler Johnson heard what she describes as a “dull bang” coming from the downstairs of her Vallejo, CA, home, the last thing she expected it to be was a gunshot.
But it was. And there was her son, Cody Hassler, 20, the oldest of four siblings, running to the stairs and crying, “Mom, I’ve been shot.”
Johnson screamed to her oldest daughter to call 911, she said, and ran to Cody and held him until the paramedics arrived, thinking this must have been a drive-by shooting.
“Another friend of Cody's ran in,” recalls Johnson, "and said, ‘Cody, you alright? Relax bro, they are coming.’ I turned and asked him, ‘Where is Sammy?’”
Sammy Turner, 19, longtime friend of Cody's since 6th grade at Cunha Intermediate School in Half Moon Bay, CA, spent a lot of time with Johnson's family. Especially within the last two years, “Sammy had issues with his father or other problems, and Cody would bring him out to our house,” said Johnson, who knows all too well the pain Turner has experienced over the years, abandoned by his mother at an early age and raised by a single dad.
Johnson, too, is “one of those broken and damaged kids,” she said.
And now? “I’m the keeper of our lost and hurt kids and adult kids. I have this drive to wanna love and fix these people. I would just be there for my kids' friends, feed them, clean their clothes, remind them to shower, and to just say, I’m not perfect, but I do care.”
She cares so much she tried everything she could on Tuesday to reach Turner, who fled from her Vallejo home and was hiding from law enforcement officials in his El Granada apartment before the San Mateo County SWAT arrested him Wednesday morning after shooting her son in the stomach for reasons still unclear.
“I began to call anyone I could think of to get access to the negotiators but it didn't seem like they were taking us seriously," she said, "and then I came upon Half Moon Bay Patch, desperate to get some information, and then I had an idea.”
She sent messages to Sammy on Patch:
SAMMY!!! CODY LOVES YOU BRO"S TO THE END.....HE FORGIVES YOU WE ALL DO!!!!! HE IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT!!!! SAMMY COME OUT WE WILL FIX THIS TOGETHER!!!!!!!!
PLEASE YELL TO SAMMY. WE LOVE HIM AND FORGIVE HIM....CODY LOVES HIM AND WANTS TO TALK TO HIM!!!!!
She also uploaded a video of Cody in the ICU at the North Bay Medical facility in Fairfield, saying he forgives Sammy for shooting him and cares about him and their friendship. Their hope was that this would reach Sammy and coerce him out of the apartment to end the standoff peacefully with a SWAT Team at his door.
“As Cody was in and out of consciousness, he would cry and ask about Sammy and beg me to do something. Cody was sure he could talk him out [of the apartment] without incident,” she said.
Cody without hesitation taped his plea to Turner, said Johnson.
“It was so touching to watch my son have such devotion to this boy he calls his best friend that just shot him. I am changed forever, and I am so proud of my son that he has that kind of heart even after his own letdowns and disappointments. I couldn't do anything more than to love and honor my son by loving and forgiving the boy who almost took my son from me.”
Still, Cody and Sammy weren’t so tight in the beginning. When they first met in middle school, they fought, said Johnson.
“But quickly Cody saw in Sam something that others didn't see or maybe didn't understand,” said Johnson. “He saw how Sammy was treated by the group of boys he considered his friends. Cody took an interest in Sammy and there started their brotherhood. Cody got him. He really understood Sammy and saw and felt all his pain. Cody just became very protective of him.”
Johnson says her son also feels pain from an absent father, distant relationships with siblings and other close family.
“As a younger child, Cody also suffered from severe hearing loss, and some behavior issues, which resulted in him being bullied a bit,” she said.
During his high school years, Cody was in and out of youth authorities. In 2010, he graduated out of the program and returned home to Half Moon Bay to find Sammy, about to graduate from Half Moon Bay High School, still hanging out with old friends, many who started coming over to Johnson’s house on a daily basis.
She describes Sammy as a “brilliant, loving, compassionate kid” and “a victim of an absent mother and a father who did what he could.”
“Sammy was just the kid that was a little off,” Johnson said.
His mental state, however, became worse over recent months, and whether it was brought on from an emotional illness or substance abuse or both, Johnson doesn't know, she just noticed that "his behavior was becoming a little more erratic,” she said.
A month or so ago Sammy went missing, she said, and she and Cody were very worried.
“We looked for him everywhere, checking hospitals and jails,” she said.
Then, about three weeks ago, he showed up at her new house, now living in Vallejo since making the move from the Coast in December 2011.
“He was very upset and sad,” said Johnson. “I put him in the shower, fed him, and told him to go lay down till Cody got home. Sammy confided in me that he really missed his mom and wanted to find and contact her so I sat down with the very little information he had on her and started to search.”
Johnson says she couldn't find much more on her and when she told Sammy, she saw a “lonely, hurt, boy, that felt unloved, and unworthy,” she said. “I got so sad and told him no matter the problems his parents had that they loved him and that his mother has unfortunately missed out on a great kid.”
Sammy stuck around Johnson's house the next couple of weeks and the guys quickly got into “a groove of hanging out and going to local raves and events with friends,” said Johnson.
“The two of them seemed to have a sixth sense about each other. They spent all day and all night hanging out and playing video games.”
Then Monday, Nov. 26 came. Johnson returned home from running errands and found Cody tearful, saying that Sammy was upset and left after they were bickering back and forth.
“I reminded Cody that this was his friend, who was in emotional crisis and to be gentle and talk about what they were arguing over,” she said.
Still, Cody says he’s not entirely clear on what the trigger was but “they argued and I think Sammy just had a break of reality due to the trauma he has been dealing with concerning his father and the lack of any communication with his mother,” he said.
And somewhere a gun came into play and Cody was shot in the stomach by his best friend.
“Out of confusion and desperation, I’m thinking Sammy in a stable mind would have taken a bullet for Cody not discharged one into him,” said Johnson. “Sammy is broken and profoundly scarred by his past. I just hurt for him. As a mom, I just want to grab him in my arms and hold him and make him feel safe and wanted. I just want to replace some of his pain with love because I know all too well how it feels to be all alone in this world.”
Johnson says the past couple of days have been nerve-wracking, worried about her son’s recovery and Sammy's state and whereabouts.
At first she thought Sammy might commit suicide or that law enforcement would end the standoff on Tuesday in the loss of Sammy's life.
“Neither myself or Cody could stand by without reaching out to his cherished friend,” said Johnson, who adds that now is the time to "repair these two boys. They are not disposable. They matter to me."
She says that Cody doesn't want to press charges. That he plans on trying to have the charges dropped completely and if that's not possible, then charges to be reduced to lowest terms.
"I hope and pray for a totall recovery for Cody and total mercy on Sammy," said Johnson. “This tragic event is bigger than these two young men. It is a reflection of what happens when we damage and break our children.”