NEW ORLEANS - To friends and family, Jeremy Aaron Johnson, 39, was a force of nature, a passionate athlete who loved the outdoors.
But when he arrived in Navarre Beach, Fla., on Saturday for an annual vacation with friends, no one could have known that this time the lifelong New Orleanian wouldn't come back.
“To be honest with you it's still a shock. We're all pinching ourselves. We want to wake up from this bad dream. We keep expecting him to walk in the door,” said Johnson’s brother, Sean.
Sean Johnson said his brother was a strong swimmer, a triathlete who had been a personal trainer for years. That's why it came as such a shock when Florida authorities discovered Jeremy Johnson apparently got caught in an undertow and drowned Saturday evening in the beach he loved.
“Jeremy wasn't a risk taker. He was very cautious, very conservative, always encouraging everyone to be safe,” said Sean Johnson.
Just before 6 p.m. Saturday, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida received a call about a missing swimmer. The Navarre Fire Department was already on the scene after receiving a call about two swimmers in distress. One of those swimmers was able to get to shore; Johnson was not.
After an intense search, his body was discovered near Navarre Beach County Park, about 1.5 miles from where he was last seen.
“He had such a brightness and such a light about him, it just feels like a void. It just feels like this empty space,” said Sean Johnson.
Johnson touched thousands of lives as a personal trainer, massage therapist, and wellness coach.
He worked for several years at the Loyola RecPlex, and worked as a personal trainer at the New Orleans Athletic Center. Johnson owned his own personal training business as well.
Johnson was also an actor, playing roles in movies like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call with Nicholas Cage.
But most of all, he was a man who was passionate about life, a man who inspired people to be their best selves, and a man who could always make you laugh.
“A really selfless, always present person. He just did a fantastic job of uplifting everybody with whom he interacted. He really believed in everybody, he really hoped for everybody,” said longtime friend Robert LeBlanc.
Within 24 hours, thousands have visited his memorial web page; hundreds have posted messages.
“Jeremy, just know how much we love you and how much we miss you and fly free,” said Sean Johnson.
The investigation into Johnson's death continues. Authorities said they are awaiting autopsy results.
You can view Johnson's memorial page here.