A year later, Alex Johnson's family continues to grieve.
"Alex, we miss you every minute of every day," Judy Johnson wrote on a lantern during a recent birthday celebration for her son, Alex.
More than 50 people gathered with chairs and blankets at a lake near Johnson's hometown in Bowling Green earlier this month to share stories and memories. They lit 34 paper lanterns and wrote a memory in honor of Johnson, who would have turned 34 on Jan. 16.
Since his death, his parents, Judy and Lee Johnson, and relatives have attempted to find a degree of peace. They've asked friends to support local organizations instead of sending flowers to express their condolences.
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But the last year has taken a toll on the entire family, Judy Johnson said.
Lee Johnson lost 45 pounds and the stress caused him to retire from his job as a banker. Their daughter, Cayce, took some time off from work. Therapy has helped, she said.
"Well, there's nothing we can do to bring Alex back," Lee Johnson said. "Me personally, I've accepted the fact that Alex is dead and we won't see him on this Earth again. But hopefully we'll see him in heaven. That's about all we can do. Over time we'll get better, gradually. But, as of now, we're still suffering."
In December 2013, Alex Johnson, then 32, was reported missing after relatives became concerned when he didn't return calls, follow through with plans he had made with friends, or attend a meeting at work Dec. 21. The last person to speak with him was his girlfriend, Lisa Horobin, who said Alex ended the call after he heard a knock at the door of his North Hanover apartment in Lexington.
Johnson's missing-persons case garnered national attention as a Facebook page was created and billboards were put up around the state. The Facebook page, JusticeforAlexJohnson, has over 14,000 likes. More than a month later, on Jan. 24, 2014, Lexington police and firefighters found Johnson's body in the Kentucky River.
Police have charged Robert Markham Taylor and Timothy Ballard with the slaying of Johnson. Taylor, 29, is charged with murder, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence. Ballard, 43, is charged with kidnapping, tampering with evidence and being a persistent felon.
Johnson, Taylor and Ballard were all acquaintances, police have said.
Their trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 5. If convicted, the Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney's office will seek the death penalty for Taylor.
Calls made to the attorneys of Taylor and Ballard were not immediately returned.
Late last year, Judy and Lee Johnson filed a wrongful death lawsuit against numerous city officials alleging police and call takers acted poorly during the initial stages of the investigation.
Susan Straub, the city's spokeswoman, declined to comment on the status of that lawsuit Thursday.
"I cannot comment on a pending lawsuit," she said.
However, Judy Johnson said things were much different during the most recent holiday season than the previous year.
"This past Christmas wasn't nearly as bad it was last Christmas with him missing," she said. "We were just in a state of anguish and torture from Christmas Eve to, basically, when they recovered his body. ... We were aware of the date, but we didn't want to think about it and just focused on his birthday."
Judy and Lee took a trip to the Bahamas over the holidays to watch their favorite basketball team play. It served as a "distraction" for them and a getaway, Judy Johnson said.
Even though they admit that closure isn't near, they've found solace in a therapy group that caters to parents who have lost children.
"We always told him we loved him and we always knew he loved us," Judy Johnson said.