CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s been nearly 75 days since Emily Johnson has seen or heard from her ex-husband, Justin Johnson — something she said is out of the ordinary.
Justin Robert Johnson, 42, of Cedar Rapids, was last seen just after midnight Nov. 4 at the Hy-Vee on Wilson Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids.
Police said the market’s video surveillance showed he was dropped off at the store by a silver sedan at about 11:15 p.m. Nov. 3, and 62 minutes later, he was seen walking behind the market, heading east on 21st Street SW.
He hasn’t been seen or heard from since. There has been no activity on Justin’s cellphone, bank accounts or credit cards, she said.
“It’s not at all like Justin to just disappear,” Johnson said. “And he especially would never leave his daughter.”
Emily and Justin Johnson met when they were both about 19. They both worked at a Pizza Hut where he was a cook and she was a supervisor.
“He was super intelligent and funny,” she said. “A lot of people might say he was quiet, but if you got him talking about something that interested him, he wouldn’t stop talking.”
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Two years later, the couple bought a house. Soon after they were married, they had a daughter, who is now 12.
They divorced in 2011 but have maintained a friendly relationship for their daughter, Johnson said.
Over the years, Johnson said her ex-husband has struggled to find stable work and housing.
“He just couldn’t hold things together,” she said.
But there was one thing she could count on, and that was his fierce devotion to their daughter.
“He never missed a visit,” she said. “He loves our daughter, and he tried hard to be a good dad. He wasn’t perfect, but he did try.”
That, Johnson said, is one of the reasons she is so worried about Justin’s disappearance.
“He would never just up and leave our daughter,” she said.
Johnson said she reported Justin missing to the Cedar Rapids Police Department on Nov. 5. She has since been in regular contact with Investigator Matt Denlinger.
“Unfortunately, there is not much more information other than what we already know,” Denlinger said.
Denlinger said officers walked the area around the Wilson Avenue Hy-Vee and possible routes Johnson could have taken, and the fire department searched the riverbanks near Czech Village and Mount Trashmore.
Johnson said she also hired people to fly drones along the river, hoping they might find something.
Before he disappeared, Denlinger said Justin made several phone calls looking for someone to pick him up. A cousin sent an Uber to pick Justin up, Johnson said, but he never got into the car.
“The people we talked to said he sounded paranoid and was not making a lot of sense,” Denlinger said. “He believed he was in danger — that he was being followed.”
Denlinger expressed concern Justin might have been experiencing some sort of mental health crisis. His behavior also was consistent with the possible abuse of methamphetamine.
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Johnson said Justin has no history of mental illness and she only recently learned he had abused drugs on occasion.
That said, in the weeks leading up to his disappearance, Johnson said she and her daughter noticed he had become increasingly paranoid and unstable.
“We actually noticed signs of depression,” Johnson said. “So my daughter and I kept him with us as much as possible. He was with us every day for the week before he went missing.”
Johnson said she also tried to get help for Justin by getting him admitted to the hospital, but it didn’t pan out.
The last phone call Justin made before he disappeared was to her, Johnson said.
“He called me at 11 p.m. and said he was in danger,” she said. “He thought we were in danger, too, and wanted to make sure we were safe. Then he called me again at 12:01 a.m. and told me that whatever happens to him, he wanted me to know he would never hurt himself. He sounded really scared.”
Denlinger said police have found no evidence that Justin met with some sort of foul play.
His ex-wife acknowledges that in his mental state, it is possible Justin harmed himself or wandered off and succumbed to the elements.
“People just don’t disappear without a trace,” Johnson said. “We just want Justin home. We hope he is OK. We hope he is somewhere safe. And we just want him to come home.”
Anyone who has seen or heard from Justin Johnson in the past two months and anyone who has information regarding his whereabouts is asked to call Investigator Denlinger at (319) 286-5491 and reference case No. 201917784.
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