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Family grieves, remembers Missoula woman

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Sitting at a Missoula restaurant over lunch, Lori Winter smiles as she talks about her daughter, Danielle "Dani" Johnston.

Dani, 30, lost her life unexpectedly on Sept. 2 at her home in Missoula County. She was many things, but paramount in her personality was her strength and resilience, Winter said.

As a teenager, Dani struggled with addiction, and Winter says conquering this hurdle shaped Dani’s strength and personality as an adult.

“Part of what made her who she was, was overcoming those challenges. And she was very caring about people, she would help anybody,” Winter said.

Dani was one and a half years into school at the University of Montana, where she was working toward a degree to become an addiction counselor for teenagers.

This was a passion of hers driven by the struggles she faced as a young adult. At the university, Dani made the honor roll all three semesters she completed. She did this while also being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, Winter said.

Dani is survived by her parents, three siblings and two daughters, Aven, age 11, and Evalyn, age 2.

“She was a wonderful mom,” Winter said. “I see her in Evalyn and Aven all the time.”

Outside of being a student and mom, Dani was a talented artist and cook and lover of the outdoors.

“She loved to draw and was an amazing artist,” Winter said, adding Dani loved to share her passion for creating things with her girls by integrating arts and crafts in their lives early on.

She was also a social butterfly, Winter said, fondly remembering when Dani’s report card would come home and there were always comments about her talking too much with her peers.

“Dani got her driver’s license at 15 because she just wanted to be able to go,” Winter said. Dani was also a cadet with the Frenchtown Fire Department when she was in high school.

As an adult, Winter said Dani was constantly planning parties and loved being around her friends and family.

“Sometimes she’d go overboard and couldn’t do everything she wanted to do,” Winter said with a laugh. “I always thought she’d be a good event planner.”

Dani’s church, First Lutheran Church, was a part of Dani’s life, too. She was baptized at the church, and years later so were her daughters.

“Faith was important to her,” Winter said.

Dani was born and raised in Missoula and called this pocket of northwestern Montana her home, Winter said. She was loved by many people in the community, and since her passing Dani’s family has seen an outpouring of support and love from the community.

On Sept. 14, Missoula County Community Justice Department Director Shantelle Gaynor sent out a statement remembering Dani and offering support and resources for Missoula residents experiencing domestic violence.

“We were heartbroken to learn of the tragic death of Danielle Johnston, and our thoughts are with her family as they grieve for her loss,” Gaynor said. “Though we didn’t know her, we grieve the loss of a member of our beloved community, where all should be safe from harm. Everyone deserves a healthy relationship free of violence. Tragedies like these have ripple effects across our community. Please be kind to yourself and others, and surround yourself and those close to you with love.”

A memorial fund for Dani is set up at the Clearwater Credit Union under Dani Johnston. Winter says the family plans to use donations to potentially help with Dani’s daughters’ college funds down the road.

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