When the gunshots stopped, Susan Johnson knew her teenage son and his girlfriend were dead.

Struck by two bullets herself, she thought she would soon be dead, too.

“I kept feeling my mouth to see if blood was coming out of it,” she said. “You watch movies and when people die, you see blood comes out of their mouth. So I felt that if there was, then I was going to die.”

Her landlord, James Pak, had just barged through her apartment’s unlocked door, walked 10 feet and fired a revolver at Johnson, who fell onto the Christmas tree and then to the floor. Her 19-year-old son, Derrick Thompson and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, 18, watched from the other side of the couch.

Susan Johnson, 47, talks about the night in December 2012 when she, her son Derrick Thompson, 19, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Alivia Welch, were shot by her landlord, James Pak, in Biddeford. The teens died in the violence; Pak, 77, has been sentenced to life in prison.

Susan Johnson, 47, talks about the night in December 2012 when she, her son Derrick Thompson, 19, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Alivia Welch, were shot by her landlord, James Pak, in Biddeford. The teens died in the violence; Pak, 77, has been sentenced to life in prison. Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer

“Don’t shoot!” Welch screamed. “Stop!” But Pak shot them, too.

That was Dec. 29, 2012. More than three years later, Johnson still recalls it as if it were yesterday. The shooting at her 17 Sokokis Road apartment in Biddeford replays in her head almost daily. She still remembers the enraged look on Pak’s face as he fired. The silver gun in his hand looked like a toy, she thought; in the movies, guns are always black.

Johnson shared her story publicly and described the shooting for the first time last week in an interview with the Maine Sunday Telegram. She had been reluctant to talk while the murder case against Pak was still pending. But now that Pak, 77, has pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Feb. 11 to two life sentences, she agreed to talk about the crime, her likely lawsuit against the Biddeford police for their response to her son’s 911 call before the shooting, and her relief that the plea spared her from testifying at trial.

“When he pulled out the gun, there was no time to do anything. There was no chance to even think,” Johnson said. “He pulled out the gun, said, ‘I’m going to shoot you all.’ Shot me twice.”

One bullet hit her in the back, and she didn’t even realize she had been shot in the arm, too, as she lay there against the Christmas tree.

“I closed my eyes, did not say a word. Tried not to move until he left,” Johnson said. “From where I was, I couldn’t see Derrick and Alivia.”

The teenagers had died where they fell. Pak left the apartment and returned to his own home, an attached apartment next door. The room fell silent.

It was then that Johnson called out to her other son, 6-year-old Brayden, who was still in his bedroom. But Brayden didn’t hear.

She worried that she was going to die.

“I kept saying over and over in my mind, ‘Brayden needs his mom,’ ” she said.

Even surviving hasn’t been easy.

“People have said I was a cowardly mom, that I ran and hid behind the Christmas tree,” Johnson said. But that’s not true, she said.

Derrick Thompson and Alivia Welch share a funny moment on Christmas Day on 2012 shortly before they were murdered by Thompson's landlord, James Pak, on Dec. 29, 2012.

Derrick Thompson and Alivia Welch share a funny moment on Christmas Day on 2012 shortly before they were murdered by Thompson’s landlord, James Pak, on Dec. 29, 2012.

Pak had stepped into the kitchen, which has no walls separating it from the living room. There was nowhere to hide.

She has seen photographs of the bloody crime scene. One shows her own blood smeared near the bottom of the wall beside the tree.

“I did fall into the Christmas tree, and that’s where I stayed,” Johnson said. “Did I play dead? Absolutely. I felt as though if I didn’t, he was just going to keep shooting. And I am 100 percent sure he would have done that, and then there would have been three of us dead instead of two.”

Johnson still doesn’t know how she managed to hang onto her cellphone after being shot. The pain was indescribable. She couldn’t get up. She struggled to keep breathing, and could only prop herself up enough to make the call to 911.

It seemed like forever before police got into her apartment, she said. Pak, still armed, remained holed up in his apartment. As police negotiated his surrender, other officers broke into Johnson’s apartment through the back door. She was conscious the entire time.

“I remember the ambulance drive. I remember getting to the hospital. I remember being under tons of bright lights once they brought me into the hospital,” Johnson said.

“And then I don’t remember anything after that for at least a day,” she said.

For a while, the tissue box in front of her went untouched.

Johnson has recounted the details of the shooting to police and to friends and family so many times by now, she says it no longer even feels like her story.

Still, when she’s asked to talk about Derrick, the tears come.

“There’s not a day that goes by that something doesn’t make me cry when I think about Derrick,” she said.

She described that night while seated in a conference room at the office where she works in Biddeford. She used a projector to show pictures, first the ones of the apartment where she was shot and then scores more of Derrick and Alivia together, Derrick when he was young and many photos Derrick took of his truck, a black pickup with an oversized engine and lowered suspension. She also showed pictures of Brayden, now 9, and her daughter, Cassandra, now 24.

“Derrick and I had an awesome relationship. We didn’t argue, we didn’t fight like a lot of teenagers and their moms do. Anything I could do for him or any of my kids, I would do,” she said.

Susan Johnson, center, holds her younger son Brayden in her arms while her older son, Derrick Thomson, stands beside her in this undated photo.

Susan Johnson, center, holds her younger son Brayden in her arms while her older son, Derrick Thomson, stands beside her in this undated photo.

Her son had a promising career detailing cars. He worked part time at Patriot Subaru in Saco and took other detailing jobs on the side, having learned the trade from Johnson’s father and brother.

“He wasn’t a bad kid. He wasn’t one to go out and party and drink, drink and drive, none of those were issues with me,” she said. “He was home every night. And obviously, as everyone knows, his favorite passion was his truck.”

The only thing they struggled over was school. He had never liked it, and once Derrick learned that he could work to make money for his truck, he began skipping high school whenever he could.

“It was a very happy graduation day for him, because I didn’t know if it would come,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she had also grown very close to Alivia and the two spent their free time with each other, even when Derrick wasn’t around.

She brought Alivia for her first pedicure. They went to the movies and the beach together.

Johnson, Derrick and Brayden moved into the apartment owned by Pak and his wife, Armit Pak, on Oct. 1, 2012. Johnson and her longtime boyfriend had broken up earlier that year, and they had spent the summer living at her friend’s house. But she was desperate to get a place of her own.

They began having problems with the Paks immediately, and Pak argued with Derrick many times,

“They looked into our windows constantly,” Johnson said.

Pak’s chief complaint was the vehicles in their shared driveway. Both Johnson and Derrick parked their vehicles there, and Alivia’s car was often there too, because she frequently stayed over.

Pak also wanted Johnson to pay an extra $200 per month because Alivia was staying there, claiming that Alivia’s presence meant they were using more utilities. Johnson refused to pay the extra rent because she paid the utilities herself.

The final straw came the evening of the shooting, when Pak confronted Derrick in the driveway because he was unhappy with how Derrick was shoveling show.

Derrick called 911 at 6:07 p.m., complaining to a dispatcher that Pak was “freaking out” and making “death threats.”

“He’s giving me death threats, pointing his fingers like it’s a gun going ‘bang.’ I got it all on video. All I’m trying to do is shovel,” Derrick told the dispatcher, according to a Maine Department of Public Safety transcript of the call.

When Biddeford police Officer Edward Dexter got to 17 Sokokis Road in response to Derrick’s initial call, he spoke with Derrick and Johnson in their apartment, and then with Pak in his apartment. He returned to tell Johnson and her son that their dispute with Pak was a civil matter, not one for the police.

The door to the left of the garage doors at 17 Sokokis Road, Biddeford, leads to the apartment where landlord James Pak burst in and shot Susan Johnson, her son and her son’s girlfriend on Dec. 29, 2012.

The door to the left of the garage doors at 17 Sokokis Road, Biddeford, leads to the apartment where landlord James Pak burst in and shot Susan Johnson, her son and her son’s girlfriend on Dec. 29, 2012. Courtesy photo

Dexter left the property at 6:51 p.m. Pak entered the apartment with the gun moments later and began shooting almost immediately. Johnson called 911 from her cellphone at 6:54 p.m.

Johnson has filed a notice of intent to sue the Biddeford Police Department for failing to take action on their initial complaint against Pak.

She said her attorney, Daniel Lilley, is now waiting for all the court records that would have been used in Pak’s criminal trial before deciding whether to move forward with a lawsuit against the Biddeford police.

“I feel like we should go through with it, absolutely,” Johnson said of the civil suit. “It’s not for the money; it’s for the principle.”

She referred to court records that have already been made public showing Pak was serious about his threats against Johnson, Derrick and Alivia before the officer left that night.

“The officer told Pak that he could not threaten his tenants, but Mr. Pak continued to assert he had nothing to lose,” Pak’s attorney, Joel Vincent, wrote in a court sentencing document.

Johnson pointed to that document and asked,”Why did they say it was a civil matter?”

Johnson remained in the hospital for seven days after being shot. When she came out, her sense of security had been shattered.

“I would never, ever rent from someone I do not know again,” she said.

After moving from Sokokis Road, Johnson found a duplex available in Biddeford from someone she has known since grade school. Her life there is more stable. She has resumed her relationship with her boyfriend from whom she separated in 2012.

But now, she worries about safety in ways she never used to.

“We did end up getting a dog about a year after, because I don’t feel safe at home. I don’t,” she said. “I know that if someone comes in that door, there is nothing that I can do physically to fight back against somebody with a gun. You can’t, unless you have one of your own. And I’ve thought of that as well.”

Johnson, now 47, said she doesn’t know how people move on with their lives after something as horrific as what happened to her.

She said she will often be driving, with Brayden in the car, and something on the radio will remind her of Derrick.

“Brayden will sit there, and he’ll know. A song will come on the radio, and he’s like, ‘Mummy, why are your eyes all watery?’ And I’ll say, ‘Brayden, I don’t know.’ And he’ll say, ‘I know, because you’re going to cry,’ ” Johnson said. “It’s almost like he expects it – for me to cry now. It’s normal for him, and that shouldn’t be.”

While the case against Pak was still pending, she looked forward to the trial, thinking that would bring some sense of closure. Then when Pak decided last month to plead guilty rather than undergo a trial, she thought his sentencing would make her feel better.

Going into Pak’s sentencing hearing, she wasn’t sure he was going to get life – or something less.

James Pak, 77, walks into a sentencing hearing this month at court in Alfred. “I was happy with (the outcome),” said shooting victim Susan Johnson, “but now he gets life and you never get your kids back.”

James Pak, 77, walks into a sentencing hearing this month at court in Alfred. “I was happy with (the outcome),” said shooting victim Susan Johnson, “but now he gets life and you never get your kids back.” Press Herald file photo/Whitney Hayward

“I was happy with (the outcome), but now he gets life and you never get your kids back,” Johnson said. “I thought it was going to make me feel a lot better than it did, and it didn’t. That’s when I started thinking about the death penalty.”

But maybe nothing will bring her closure.

“I thought the end of the sentencing would help,” she said. “And now I don’t know what’s going to help.”

Did telling her story help? Johnson said she didn’t think so.

“We still have the civil law cases we have to go through. So maybe at the end of those? No,” she said.

“It still doesn’t change anything.”