Friends of Collingswood resident Michelle Johnson were stunned today to learn that the sunny, upbeat and hard-working young woman had been found dead Wednesday in Philadelphia, .
Staff at the today confirmed that the 21-year-old, known as "Shelley," was a long-time member of the restaurant family, having worked her way up from hostess/buser to server.
Owner Mark Smith was too shaken to say much after hearing the news. Johnson had worked for him “for years,” he said.
“I don’t know how I’m going to tell the staff,” Smith said.
Restaurant manager Evan Weissman said Johnson was “a fun girl, a sweet girl and very bright.”
One server at the restaurant, who did not wish to be identified by name, broke down upon hearing the news that Johnson, whom she called her best friend, had been killed.
“She was beautiful. She was a really, really strong person,” the server said. “She and I bonded over the fact that we lived on our own, we’re both young and we don’t have people supporting us.”
That server described Johnson as having escaped a rough Virginia neighborhood where she had few close friends. She said Johnson’s mother had been out of the picture since her childhood, and that Johnson had been raised mostly by her father, with whom she was close.
Johnson was “girly” and “beautiful;” the two enjoyed pedicures, shopping and day trips to Atlantic City. She said Johnson’s dream was to own her own restaurant someday, and that “she was a shark when it came to her money” in service of that dream.
Philadelphia police confirmed to Patch that Johnson was found in a Gateway Drive apartment belonging to California native Paul Aldapa, 22. Police believe Aldapa shot Johnson once in the head before turning the gun on himself. A note was found at the scene**, the contents of which were undisclosed.
Aldapa was a Coast Guard petty officer who had been dating Johnson “officially” for a few months, the server said.
The couple met online last September, according to the server, who described Aldapa as “controlling,” “jealous” and “possessive.”
“She said a couple weeks ago that she thought she wasn’t meant to be in a relationship because he was smothering her,” the server said.
“Then all of a sudden he was a saint, paying for her gas, buying her an E-ZPass to see him easily."
She stressed that Johnson was never a victim of abuse, but that Johnson had insisted that Aldapa seek anger management counseling, which she said he was doing, or they couldn't continue the relationship.
No arrangements have been confirmed for Johnson’s memorial. Philadelphia police confirmed that the families of both Johnson and Aldapa had been notified.
**CORRECTION: Contrary to initial reports that a note was found at the scene, a source close to the investigation confirmed to Patch that this is incorrect.
If you knew Michelle Johnson or Paul Aldapa and would like to share memories of them, please post them in the Comments section below, or email Matt Skoufalos at firstname.lastname@example.org.