KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Friends sobbed, hugged and held candles in an impromptu memorial service Thursday night as they remembered a fun-loving 16-year-old Kansas boy fatally shot during a school trip to Costa Rica.
It was supposed to be a nine-day learning opportunity for Justin Johnston and 11 other McLouth High School students who went on the Spanish Club trip accompanied by two school district sponsors.
But a hotel guard reportedly shot Justin in the chest about 4 a.m. Thursday as Justin and another student returned to the hotel. The guard apparently mistook him for a burglar in the dark, according to the Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion. The other boy was not injured.
Justin's parents spent Thursday morning figuring out how to get passports and fly to Costa Rica to bring their oldest child's body home. They expect that to take four to five days, family friends said.
"My daughter was crushed this morning," said Edward Courtney, a neighbor of the Johnstons. "She came to me crying and couldn't believe it happened."
Sometime during the night, Justin and another student had left the grounds of La Cangreja Lodge hotel in a part of Costa Rica that's popular with tourists because of a nearby active volcano. As the young men tried to cross a fence to try to get back to the hotel, a dog barked and alerted the 34-year-old guard, La Nacion reported.
The guard fired a warning shot, which sent the students running, according to the report. Johnston ran toward the guard, who shot him in the chest with a .22-caliber gun. He died immediately, La Nacion reported.
Justin, who ran track and played baseball, was a well-like boy who always seemed to have a smile on his face, friends said. He had just finished his sophomore year.
"I remember the first time I met him," said Anne Courtney, a 2010 McLouth High graduate. "He was someone you would instantly like."
Her mother, Robin Courtney, described the Johnston family as really close and loving. When she and her daughter visited the Johnstons late Thursday morning, Justin's dad was constantly on the phone, trying to work through legal issues. He didn't have time to let Justin's death sink in, Robin Courtney said. Justin's mother was in shock, she said.
Thursday evening, more than 300 people, young and old, crowded into the United Methodist Church across the street from McLouth High to remember Justin. People who couldn't find space in the packed pews lined the walls or crowded into the back of the church. One by one, each mourner lit a candle in silence that was interrupted occasionally by mumbled sobs or soft prayers.
In Costa Rica earlier in the day, grief counselors worked with the remaining students and their sponsors, tour organizers said. Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica met with local officials and Americans at the hotel.
"While tragic, this incident appears to be an isolated event and not indicative of any broader safety concerns in Costa Rica," the tour organizer said.
The tour began Monday and was to last until June 7, but arrangements were being made Thursday for the group to return early to McLouth, a small community about 20 miles north of Lawrence. The school district, which has about 530 students in all grades, provided counselors for students and staff on Thursday and will have them available again Friday.
"Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Johnston family as well as students and faculty affected by this tragedy," Superintendent Steve Splichal said. He thanked U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., for helping with international communications.
Justin was the oldest of five children in a friendly family that's active at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Easton, Kan., and he read the Scripture at a service a couple of weeks ago, Edward Courtney said.
Another Kansas student was killed in Costa Rica in 2001, in the Pacific gulf city of Golfito.
Shannon Martin, 23, was finishing a project she had started as a University of Kansas exchange student when she was fatally stabbed while walking home from a nightclub. A man and woman were sentenced to 30 years for her murder.
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