Johnson, hailing from Jackson, Miss., rushed for more than 1,500 yards his last season, totaling over 4,000 for his career, and received scholarship offers from a number of major schools including Alabama, LSU and Mississippi as a top-rated recruit by both Scout and Rivals.
Johnson died of a (possibly self-inflicted) gun wound early Monday after being pulled by a sheriff's deputy. (UPDATE: The NCAAP, in an independent investigation, has ruled out suicide as the cause of death.)
It's not clear why 17-year-old Billey Joe Johnson was stopped in Lucedale, but authorities say the junior tailback shot himself with a shotgun after the deputy walked back to the patrol car to run a license check.The last portion of that quote is particularly perplexing, because it is hard to believe that Johnson would have attempted to pull a shotgun on police officers ...although equally confounding is the notion that Johnson would kill himself at what, according to all current reports, appears to be a basic traffic stop.
"The deputy was sitting in his patrol vehicle ... when he heard a gunshot and saw the victim laying on the ground by the driver's side door of the vehicle that Johnson was driving. A shotgun was lying on the victim," according to a statement from the George County Sheriff's Department.
Authorities would not immediately say whether they believed the shooting was a suicide or an accident.
Nothing is ever certain, but this story appears to be so odd, at least in the manner of death, that it would be even more shocking if further details didn't at least emerge as to why the young man apparently panicked and pulled a gun that resulted in the tragic and early end to his life.
Update: A grand jury has ruled that his death was accidental.