Like a mom: Friends remember Pam Johnson, missing since disastrous Sevier fire
Friends and family began to worry about Pamela Johnson soon after the Sevier County fires swept across the town last week.
She lived at the Travelers Motel on Highway 321. That's where she last was seen, before flames consumed it.
Little remains of the motel today. And the whereabouts of Johnson are very much a mystery.
She is perhaps the only known person unaccounted for since the disastrous Nov. 28 blaze burned parts of Gatlinburg and Sevier County, killing at least 14, destroying or damaging about 2,400 structures and injuring more than 140 people.
Authorities revealed Tuesday that the body of Robert A. Hejny, 63, was found at the motel. He lived there as well, not far from Johnson.
Friends fear the worst. Like Johnson, Hejny was their friend.
"Robert -- he was one of my best friends, " said Margie Dooley, another Travelers resident.
Georgette Smith recalled her brother "Bobby" Hejny as a smart man and an accomplished musician with an interest in horticulture. He was from New York originally and had lived in Gatlinburg since October 2005, after surviving Hurricane Katrina along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
"Bob was a free spirit. He adored nature and wildlife, fishing and hiking," Smith told 10News in an email Wednesday. "He applied to be a forest ranger and also applied for the Peace Corps twice. Of course he was 55 years old at the time, so he didn't make it, lol. God bless him though. He tried."
He'd worked as a waiter and dishwasher in Gatlinburg, she said.
"He loved people and would often bow and with hands together say 'Namaste' as a sign of respect (in Sanskrit, Namaste means the higher power/light in me acknowledges and respects the higher power/light in you.)" Smith wrote.
Chris Dooley said motel residents have been "crying for a week."
"They were both good people," Chris Dooley said. "They didn't hurt nobody. They were good to everybody."
The people who lived at the Travelers saw themselves as a kind of family. They looked out for each other, commiserated with each other, joked with each other.
Johnson worked at the nearby McKinney's Market, which also was destroyed in the fire. She was like the mom, giving everyone love and hugs.
Her neighbors wish now more than ever that they had those hugs.
"She's the kind of person that helped everybody. She always did," said David Kendrick, a 10-year Travelers resident who lived around the corner from her.
He pointed out what's left of her room at the rubble-strewn site. Here was her dresser; over there was her Harley-Davidson stool.
Some of her friends are holding out hope. Others are resigned.
"I pretty much knew deep in my mind that she's gone," Kendrick said. "Because she would've called... she would've called me that night."
Johnson's granddaughter Karyssa Dalton has searched around town for her without luck.
She told 10News on Wednesday that Gatlinburg detectives still consider Johnson to be missing and are actively investigating the case.