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Parents of St. Thomas student killed before his graduation make plea to 'put the damn guns down'

Charlie Johnson was caught in the crossfire in downtown Minneapolis while celebrating his graduation.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — The parents of a University of St. Thomas engineering student shot and killed over the weekend are making a plea to the community.

21-year-old Charlie Johnson was set to graduate just hours after the shooting that ended his life.

“He was just trying to celebrate his college graduation with his buddies, trying to walk home, and was gunned down on the streets of what now is a broken city that I don’t know that I can go back into,” Greg Johnson, Charlie’s father, said.

With one arm around his wife Veronique’s shoulder, Greg Johnson continued. “We’re just asking everyone to put the damn guns down. Put ‘em down.”

The couple spoke with KARE11 prior to a candlelight vigil organized by friends at the Johnson’s Golden Valley home.

Charlie’s mom held back tears talking about her only son. “I miss my baby,” she said. “I’m so proud of him. I will never speak about him in the past. He’s right here, right now, he’s everybody’s guardian angel.”

RELATED: University of St. Thomas grad Charlie Johnson killed in Minneapolis crossfire

Veronique Johnson clutched a stuffed animal she and her husband found in their son’s college bedroom. “I don’t know kids who go to college with their favorite stuffed animal and a box of costumes. I will hold it, I will sleep with it,” she said of the stuffed animal.   

The parents said as they’ve talked with Charlie’s acquaintances, they’ve discovered much about their son in the past three days, “a young, powerful, man who always spoke with his heart, with love, passion, compassion, kindness,” Charlie’s mother said.

Veronique Johnson said she learned from her daughter “that my son’s been killed with a bullet in his back for celebrating everything he’d done in his life so far.”

RELATED: 'He was just ready to live': Friends of St. Thomas grad killed in shootout speak out

The parents said Charlie fought for non-violence and peace during his life. “He was finding the good side of everybody,” his mother said.

The parents held up a picture of an internet meme created in Charlie’s Honor. It features a picture of Charlie and reads, “I am Charlie.”

“We just hope everybody aspires to be a little bit like him, so, I am Charlie,” Greg Johnson said.

“I am Charlie,” Veronique Johnson repeated.