Family members and friends are preparing to say their final goodbyes to an Army sergeant from Miami Gardens whose death has sparked a war of words between a South Florida congresswoman and President Donald Trump and his chief of staff.
The viewing for Sgt. La David T. Johnson was Friday night at Christ the Rock Community Church in Cooper City, followed by a funeral Saturday at the same church.
"I couldn't believe it. Like it didn't feel real," said Terkiya McGriff, Johnson's sister. "Like, it didn't feel real, but now reality hit me and it was like he's really gone. And I'm not going to ever have my brother anymore."
Johnson, a husband and father of three, attended Miami Carol City Senior High before enlisting in the Army in 2014. The 25-year-old was among four American soldiers who were killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.
Viewing Held for Fallen South Florida Soldier
Johnson's death became national news after President Trump called his widow on Tuesday to offer his condolences. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who was in the car with Johnson's family when Trump called, said in an interview that Trump had told Johnson's widow that "you know that this could happen when you signed up for it ... but it still hurts."
Johnson's aunt, who raised the soldier from a young age, said the family took that remark to be disrespectful.
The call came in as they drove to Miami's airport to receive the body. At the airport, widow Myeshia Johnson leaned in grief across the flag-draped coffin after a military guard received it.
Wilson called the president's remarks "insensitive," but Trump fired back that her description of the call was "fabricated."
"Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" Trump tweeted.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly later defended Trump, calling Wilson an "empty barrel" who "makes noise," though he did not deny the lawmaker's account of the phone call.
Funeral Services to be Held for Miami Gardens Soldier
Kelly also accused Wilson of grandstanding at the dedication of a Miami FBI office in 2015. Wilson pushed back at that during a CNN interview Friday, saying she wasn't in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured so she wouldn't have congratulated herself on orchestrating it. She told CNN the chief of staff "needs to stop telling lies on me."