Remembering John Albers


Photo courtesy of Caroline Diederich/Instagram

Caroline Diederich and Albers at a party in May of 2017.

Anna Cowden, Ethan Knauth

John Denis Albers, a junior at BVNW, died Jan. 20 from a police-involved shooting as he drove out of his family’s garage. Details surrounding his death are under investigation by the Johnson County Officer-Involved Shooting Team.

The night following his death, students gathered for a vigil at Sunset Ridge Elementary to remember Albers.

Born Valery Alexandrovich Zhemchugov in Minsk, Belarus Dec. 16, 2000, he was adopted by Sheila, principal at Harmony Middle School, and Steve Albers, and became an American citizen in May 2002.

He is survived by parents as well as brothers Tommy and Patrick.

Since Sheila could not get pregnant in her first five years of marriage, she said adopting John fulfilled her dream of becoming a parent.

“John brought us much more joy than we brought him in this sense that he fulfilled our dreams of becoming parents,” Sheila said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than that.”

Sheila said John’s passion for sports developed early in his childhood.

“I remember when he was about three-ish, he would only wear a shirt if it had a ball on it,” Sheila said. “I had to buy this whole string of shirts, because they had balls on it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t get dressed in the morning. It kind of showed his early love for sports.”

Sheila said Albers started playing soccer at age 4, and continued to do so until his death.

In the summer of 2015, John began playing for the soccer club TOCA (toca is the Spanish word for touch). While playing for a branch of the club, TOCA City, Sheila said he identified with his teammates from lower income neighborhoods from Kansas City, Kan. in part because he saw himself as an outsider.

“The TOCA City kids are a mix of Hispanic kids, and Nepali refugees,” Sheila said. He identified with those kids because he saw them as ‘they’re outsiders.’ Most of them had only been in the country 3-5 years, struggling, coming from not good neighborhoods. He had a huge heart for those kids and he would have given his shirt off his back for those kids.”

Sheila said her most fond memory of John was when they traveled to St. Louis with TOCA in July 2015 for a mission trip. Sheila described the neighborhood where they played in St. Louis as “insanely rough.”

“I think it was life changing for John because they played soccer, they helped out in the neighborhood, and they also prayed,” Sheila said. “If I had to point to a moment, I think that’s where his faith came from in the sense that God wants us to serve and help each other.”

After attending Blue Valley West his freshman year, Albers transferred to Blue Valley Northwest in October of his sophomore year.

BVNW junior varsity soccer coach Brian Murphy said Albers was dedicated and hardworking as a goalie on the JV team.

“He got along really well with the guys,” Murphy said. “He was very attentive in practice. He came to all the practices and worked hard.”

As a Husky, Murphy said Albers was an aggressive player who always gave his best on the field.

“He loved soccer,” Murphy said. “When he was in the goal, he’d throw his body [in front of the ball]. He wasn’t afraid of getting hurt. He was a real tough kid.”

Following Albers’ death, friend of Albers’ and junior Gabriel Bright said he holds no resentment toward the police despite negative rhetoric directed toward police during his speech at Albers’ vigil the night after the shooting.

“I’m not bitter toward the police department at all,” Bright said, “I never have been. I’m just upset that it happened. I don’t think it needed to happen.”

Since Albers’ death, BVNW Resource Officer and Overland Park Police Officer Richard Spandle said he has never heard any rude comments concerning the police or himself.

“All the students have been great toward me,” Spandle said. “It probably helps that I like to think we have a good relationship with the students. Hopefully that is a indicator that we are doing well here. Regardless, John’s situation was a tragedy.”

Friends of Albers said he was true to himself and described him as compassionate.

“He doesn’t seem like he cares, but he’s the most compassionate person I’ve ever met,” junior Paige Fleming said. “He doesn’t build a lot of connections with a lot people, but [with] the ones he does build, it’s unbreakable.”

Junior and close friend Caroline Diederich said he was in tune with his faith, often praying before meals and attending mass service.

“Every time we were out to eat, he’d be like ‘alright guys we have to pray,’’ Diederich said. “He’d say something meaningful and then he’d say something like ‘the children in Africa.’ He’d make it funny. He was really committed to his faith, and you wouldn’t really expect that because he plays tough guy.”

Over the summer of 2017, BVW junior Kassidy Lidgett said she, Albers, Diederich and a couple other friends went to Worlds of Fun. At Worlds of Fun, Lidgett said Albers was too shy to to ask Caroline out.

“John liked Caroline,” Lidgett said. “So we went to Worlds of Fun, and John looks at me and he’s like ‘hold my hand.’ We all hold hands throughout all of Worlds of Fun just because he liked Caroline. He was too awkward and shy to just grab Caroline’s hand and be like ‘I like you, let me hold your hand.’

Photo courtesy of Caroline Diederich
While at the amusement park Worlds of Fun, Kassidy Lidgett, John Albers, and Caroline Diederich hold hands.

Diederich laughed at the memory, adding “everyone was like ‘dude, this kid’s slaying over here! He’s got two girls on his arm.’”

Sheila said she feels blessed for all the support garnered after John’s death.

“[My family is] so insanely grateful for the support we’ve received,” Sheila said. “It has been beyond indescribably beautiful. The love, the food, the flowers, the notes, the cards. Just overwhelming love. This is our home. We deeply love our community. This is where we will stay.”

If a police report regarding the details of John’s death is released, Sheila said she does not want a violent response, regardless of the results.

“It is OK to be upset, but I want everyone to be peaceful,” Sheila said. “Any sort of violent response will not honor John. It will not honor my family.”


Donations can be made online to the Blue Valley Educational Foundation.

Links to stories in The Kansas City Star:

Jan. 20 The Kansas City Star initial story

Jan. 21 The Kansas City Star follow-up story

Jan. 22 The Kansas City Star follow-up story

Jan. 24 The Kansas City Star editorial