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Fanshawe mourns death of incoming student

Credit: Photo provided by Elaine Sartoretto

William Johnston was a kind and selfless person according to many people in his life.


Kerra Seay | Interrobang | News | August 29th, 2016




“He was amazing. He was so loving and caring and honest. He would give you the shirt off his back,” said Josephine Cassar Johnston about her son, William. “He thought about everybody but himself.”

On the afternoon of Thursday, July 14, 18-year-old William Johnston, also known as Willie to friends and family, jumped off a pier with his girlfriend into the water at Port Stanley beach, but he never made it back to shore.

Johnston’s body was recovered three days later at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 17. Investigators found that an undercurrent was responsible for his drowning.

Johnston would have been a first year electrical engineering student at Fanshawe.

His mother said her son will leave behind a legacy of kindness and selflessness.

“He was a true angel. I want people to see him and use him as a reference to be loving and giving and kind, because that’s what he was,” Josephine said. “He was my Wonka- doodle, like Willy Wonka. He’ll be my Wonka-doodle forever.”

An honour student throughout high school, Willie enrolled at Fanshawe after taking a year off in order to care for his grandparents. Josephine said he dreamed about a career in robotics and engineering.

“He loved all the little technical things. He would take things apart and build them back up again,” she said. She added that when he and his brothers were younger they bought the boys a miniature car so they could drive around, but she was concerned about what would happen to the car in Willie’s hands.

“I said, ‘Why would you buy that? You know Willie’s going to strip it.’ And that’s exactly what he did. As soon as he got it he stripped all the wires out of it and put it all back together again,” she said. Willie was four-years-old at the time.

One story about Willie that stands out has to do with a project he worked on in school to build a fully functioning robot. Josh Lewis, who has known Willie since grade eight, said their teacher just couldn’t believe what Willie and his friend had made.

“It was quite the show,” Lewis said.

Lewis said that even though Willie was a jokester he was still someone you could trust.

“He always made everyone feel good. He was always funny in some way,” Lewis said. He said it was Willie’s humour that stood out the most to him.

Willie’s mom agreed.

“He was a jokester, my little nerd, because at 18 he would still play with Legos. He was into Pokémon and movies like Lord of the Rings. He loved hanging out with his friends, they were like the Three Musketeers, but I can’t even say that because there were so many of them.”

His mother recalled a story from when he was in junior Kindergarten and he would put up a fight every morning because he wanted to wear his suit to school.

“I would say, ‘You can’t go to school with a suit on, the kids will make fun of you.’ And he would yell at me, ‘I don’t care, I’m wearing my suit!’ He would sneak it in his schoolbag and change at school or bring a tie.”

Both his mother and Elaine Sartoretto, Willie’s aunt, said his legacy will be one of kindness, and that his kindness and selflessness were never more evident than in his care and devotion for his maternal grandparents.

“He looked after [my] parents for a long time, the last couple of years they were alive,” said Sartoretto. “He spent a lot of his life with them. That was the way his soul was.”

“He gave his life to them,” Josephine said. “They were his main concern.”

From the age of 14, he was an extremely important part in the lives of John and Thelma Cassar, affectionately called Meme and Popa.

Thelma passed away on January 14, 2014, and Willie moved in with his grandfather to help care for him, even deciding to take a year off after graduating high school. John passed away on March 5, 2016. Josephine said her father died in her son’s arms.

“I know they’re together and that’s what’s giving me comfort”. I know they’re together,” she said.
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