On January 11, 2013, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found rolled up in a school gym mat in an upright position. Strangely, his death was considered an accident by the authorities, but the teenager's parents had a different opinion.
The mat the teenager was found in was about six feet in length, and it left a hole with a 14-inch diameter in the middle when rolled up. Therefore, it appeared like he was trying to squeeze himself into the center of the mat, scrunching his shoulders in the process to make sure he could fit inside.
Officially, Kendrick Johnson succumbed to positional asphyxia, which was a puzzling conclusion because the coroner's report didn't support this theory.
In just 24 hours, the police had already decided Kendrick Johnson died accidentally.
As far as they were concerned, the teenager found himself accidentally stuck himself at the center of the mat as he was trying to reach for a sneaker. He had kept it there to avoid paying for a locker.
Kendrick Johnson's Parents Thought There Was Foul Play In Their Son's Murder
Johnson was a student at Lowndes High School. He lived in Valdosta, Georgia, with his parents. However, as far as his parents Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, were concerned, his death was not being taken seriously, partly because he was black. More importantly, they thought a massive cover-up was in play.
According to friends, Johnson was sweet and quiet. He was also a determined athlete who hoped to play football professionally one day.
Unfortunately, that never came to be after he was found dead by fellow students.
When other students found him, he was rolled up in a gym mat, and his sneakers were behind his knees. He was also wearing socks, and one of his hands was stretched above his head while the other was down his waist.
Therefore, it appeared like he was trying to get his shoe from the rolled-up mat. Other students informed authorities that students who did not want to pay for a locker left their things in mats.
However, as far as his parents were concerned, there is no way their son, whose shoulders measured 19 inches, would have tried to squeeze himself through a 14-inch hole in the gym mat.
The Police Overlooked Clues Before Closing The Case
By the time they discovered Kendrick Johnson's body, a day had already gone by. There were also some mysteries about the scene of the crime by the time the case was closed a day later.
For instance, one of his shoes was found on top of a pool of blood. However, the shoe itself did not have any blood.
According to the coroner, the police also alleged that he died while in an upside-down position, but the fact that he was not bleeding from facial orifices told a different story.
There were also traces of blood on the wall, and after tests, it was found to have come from someone else other than Kendrick Johnson. However, the police said the blood had probably been there for quite a while.
Although his hoodie and a different pair of shoes were found on the gym floor, the police did not take these items into evidence.
One of the things that made Johnson's parents suspicious was that the authorities ruled the death an accident just 24 hours after the boy's body was discovered. They also suspected that his body was moved, and the coroner confirmed this.
Kendrick Johnson's family also found it strange that the coroner was involved six hours after the police found the body because Georgia law states that the coroner has to be called immediately.
Also, the parents found it odd that he could have died accidentally and not called for help in an institution with more than 3,000 students.
Furthermore, they thought his race had something to do with his case not being taken seriously. All the investigators involved were white.
What's The Real Truth About Kendrick Johnson?
To prove that something was going on, Johnson's parents shared a photo of him while in a funeral home. The image shocked everyone because his face was swollen. This also got the public's support as they sought the truth about their son's death.
There was progress in the story after a judge allowed for his body to be exhumed on May 8, 2013. This time, an autopsy was conducted by a private pathologist, who found out that the teenager had experienced hemorrhaging on the right side of the neck.
In other words, Kendrick Johnson most likely died from blunt force trauma. Therefore, the pathologist ruled that his death was not an accident.
Additionally, some of his organs had been removed and replaced with newspaper. This was inconsistent with the claim made by authorities that all his organs had been put back in the body after the first autopsy.
This time around, the coroner claimed that the organs had been removed and disposed of before the body was taken to the funeral home because they were too decomposed. Johnson's family considered suing the funeral home for trying to cover up what had killed him but later dropped the case. The fact that the organs could not be tested during the second autopsy only fueled suspicions about his inexplicable death.
This new evidence was enough to make Matthew Moore, the district attorney, announce a formal review of Kendrick Johnson's case. However, the Johnsons were unsuccessful in having the case re-opened and the death was categorized as non-accidental. This was even though the coroner had declared in his report that he had an issue with how the sheriff's department had handled the case.
The coroner had noted that the body had been "noticeably moved" and that there had been "no cooperation from law enforcement at the scene."
After The Johnsons Sued Several Parties, They Were Fined $300,000
Ultimately, CNN got their hands on the school's security footage from the day Kendrick Johnson died. However, it did not help resolve the mystery of his death.
The cameras were not focused, but they still showed Kendrick Johnson walking into the gym and jogging for several seconds. An hour of footage was also missing, which served as additional proof that he had been killed.
Eventually, two brothers were suspected of killing Kendrick Johnson over a disagreement they had with him a year earlier. Kendrick's parents thought the school covered up the murder because of his race since the brothers were white and their father was an FBI agent.
To the Johnsons, this meant he was in a position to manipulate the school and its leadership to ensure his kids' involvement was kept out of the case.
In 2015, the Johnsons filed a civil lawsuit involving 38 defendants, including three of their son's classmates, the school, and the local crime lab. Yet, they also claimed they had no hard evidence against these people and entities and so had to drop the case.
They were then sued for over $850,000 in attorney fees and over a million dollars for defamation. In the end, the judge ordered them to pay $300,000 for the lawyer fees of those they had accused without any evidence.
In 2016, it was announced that nobody would be charged with Kendrick Johnson's death because there wasn't adequate evidence to pursue criminal charges. So, the case was closed as far as the feds were concerned.
Kendrick Johnson Exhumed For A Second Time
Even though the feds were not going to pursue the case, Johnson's parents had still not given up and had the body exhumed for a second time. It was confirmed that he had been struck in the neck with a 45-pound dumbbell, which established the findings of the second autopsy.
In addition to the missing video footage, this finding confirmed there was a cover-up going on. The parents wanted the case re-opened, and, in March 2021, the authorities finally agreed to re-open the case.
Lowndes County Sheriff, Ashley Paulk, was also anxious to know the answers by looking at the evidence once more. Paulk and his team got evidence from the feds, which they hope will help solve the case once and for all.
This is the first time all the evidence from the case has been gathered in one place, and the authorities hope nothing will be missed this time around.
They hope that justice will finally be served though eight years had passed before the authorities could consider the case a non-accidental death. However, the sheriff confirmed that this did not necessarily mean anything was wrong with the original investigation.
He also clarified that the two brothers previously named by Johnsons were not suspects in the re-opened case. Nevertheless, Kendrick Johnson's parents are still grateful that the case has been re-opened. Paulk hopes that the new investigation helps settle community concerns over how the case was handled in the past.
A documentary about the teenager called Finding Kendrick Johnson was released online in 2021. The documentary film demonstrates that the case was grossly mishandled as it was full of errors and obstructions from law enforcement, including the FBI.
For instance, although the two brothers accused of murdering him never saw Kendrick Johnson before he died, according to the FBI, video footage shows one of them at the same location as Kendrick Johnson on that fateful day.