Bodies positively identified as Portage couple

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — The two bodies discovered in the woods in Portage are those of Gary and Laura Johnson, authorities confirmed Monday.

The manner of their deaths will be listed as homicide, authorities said.

Crews unearthed the bodies Friday afternoon at Gourdneck State Game Area. They started digging after search dogs signaled in a spot about 200 yards south of Vanderbilt Avenue east of US-131. Police thought then the remains were those of the Johnsons, but had to wait for a positive identification to say for sure.

Investigators went to the state game area Friday after learning Thursday that they would find one or both of the bodies there, though Portage Department of Public Safety Chief Nicholas Armold would not elaborate on what that information was or where it came from.

They had been looking for Gary and Laura Johnson since Tuesday, when Gary Johnson’s employer called police because he had not logged in for work for a few days. In fact, police soon realized, no one had seen the Johnsons for more than a week, since Feb. 3.

At the couple’s home on Romence Road, officers found signs of violence — though again, they have not provided specific details. It became clear fairly quickly that police were dealing with a homicide investigation.

An undated courtesy photo of Gary and Laura Johnson.

The Johnsons’ son Nick Johnson, 27, is considered a person of interest in the case. Also listed as a parole absconder as of late December, he was arrested Tuesday on unrelated weapons charges.

NICK JOHNSON LAST PERSON SEEN WITH MISSING TEEN

Nick Johnson is also a person of interest in the 2018 disappearance of 17-year-old Bonifacio Pena, who went by Facio. Originally of Gobles, family said he had left home and was living on his own.

“All we know is the last time Facio was seen was in May (2018) with Nick Johnson,” Armold, the Portage police chief, said.

Police were told by witnesses that around midnight on May 19, 2018, the two walked away from a townhouse on Valleywood Court, near the intersection of Centre Avenue and Oakland Drive in Portage. It’s less than a mile from the police department.

“Five hours later, around 5 a.m., Nick returned to the townhouse and Facio has never been seen again,” the police chief said.

Armold said Pena’s social media activity stopped that same day.

He said officers worked every tip, including bringing out cadaver dogs and calling in a helicopter. They even followed up on a tip out of state. They kept coming up with nothing.

“One of the difficulties in the Facio Pena case is that the people involved that we’re getting the the information from, none of them are very credible,” Armold said.

“Now that (the Johnson) case came up last week, it just simply maybe verifies what we were thinking in 2018,” he added. “Hindsight is 20/20. The only connection that Nick Johnson has is he was the last person seen with Pena and that’s where it stops.”

—News 8’s Heather Walker contributed to this report.

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