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Tennessee Authorities Name Suspect In Brazen Murder Of Rapper Young Dolph

Beloved Memphis rapper Young Dolph was killed the week before Thanksgiving in a shooting that also caused extensive damage to a cookie shop he loved.

By Megan Carpentier
Justin Johnson Pd

The name of a suspect in the brutal pre-Thanksgiving slaying of a Memphis rapping legend has finally been made public.

Justin Johnson, 23, was named as a suspect in the Nov. 17 murder of rapper Adolph "Young Dolph" Thornton, Jr., 36, in a Wednesday press release from the U.S. Marshals Service.

The Memphis Police Department has issued a warrant for his arrest on charges including first- degree murder and theft, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Johnson was also added to the TBI's "10 Most Wanted" list at the request of the Memphis Police Department, the TBI told Oxygen.com. Between the U.S Marshals, the TBI, the Memphis Police Department and Crime Stoppers, law enforcement is offering up to $15,000 for information related to his arrest.

Johnson is also currently wanted on an outstanding warrant for violation of his federal supervised release; he was previously convicted on a weapons charge. Bureau of Prison records reflect that he was released in May 2021.

The U.S. Marshal's office stated that their Two Rivers Violent Fugitive Task Force took on the search for Johnson because of the two outstanding warrants and have been extensively looking for him, but have been unsuccessful in their efforts. 

They state that Johnson has "ties to organized criminal gangs" and they believe he is "armed and dangerous."

Memphis NBC affiliate WMC reports that Johnson had been charged with second-degree attempted murder in February 2017 after he got in an argument at Billy Hardwick's All Star Lanes that January, left the bowling alley, returned with an assault rifle and wounded three people. Court records reviewed by the station reflect that police found Johnson and another man in February at a home in the nearby neighborhood of Fox Meadows with "an assault rifle, bag of marijuana and a scale"; Johnson denied the gun was his. The disposition of his attempted murder case is not known and the Memphis Police Department did not respond to a request for comment from Oxygen.com.

Johnson was arrested again in May 2018, according to WMC, which reported that he was apprehended at a gated apartment complex near the airport after he failed to present identification to the security guard. He was charged with with unlawful possession of a weapon and drug possession with intent to sell after police say they confiscated "a loaded Glock 23, bags of marijuana, a digital scale, $147 in cash and Johnson’s Dodge Charger."

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Young Dolph was shot and killed around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 17 while patronizing the Black-owned bakery Makeda's Cookies near the Memphis airport. The shop sustained significant damage and had to close, the owners told NBC affiliate WMC in Memphis at the time, because their insurance didn't cover the damage from the "dozens" of bullets fired at Dolph.

The day after the shooting, Memphis Police released stills from surveillance video taken at the time of the shooting in an effort to identify the two shooters. In it, two men can be seen firing or brandishing two weapons — an AK-47-style, short-barreled automatic or semi-automatic rifle, and a handgun — outside the business, having emerged from a two-door white Mercedes Benz. Dolph's custom camouflage-painted Corvette is seen parked in the background of the footage.

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The following week, police confirmed that the same Mercedes had been used in a Nov. 12 shooting after a high school football game 45 miles away in Covington, Tennessee. Police in Covington said the men were armed with a "long rifle" and one witness identified the sound of the shooting as coming from an automatic or semi-automatic rifle. The men in that case fired 40 shots at a vehicle containing the mother of one of the game's football players, Darnisha Wynn McLeod, and her partner's mother, Anita Wilson. McLeod was reportedly hit in her abdomen and back, and Wilson was hit in the shoulder; the older woman later died of her injuries.

It is not clear if Johnson is also a suspect in that shooting.

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