On January 11 in Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found dead, rolled up inside a large gym mat.
Johnson’s head was pointed toward the floor in the mat, which had been placed vertically and stored behind the bleachers. The state says it was an accident, but Johnson’s parents suspect otherwise and new evidence might prove their hypothesis. Amid this dispute, the federal government is getting ready to launch its own investigation.
Here is what you need to know about this important emerging story:
1. Johnson Was Found a Day After His Parents Reported Him Missing
On January 10, 2013, Johnson’s parents reported their son missing. The next day at Kendrick’s school, Lowndes High School, students saw what they thought were a pair of socks sticking out of the mat, and when they approached they told investigators they realized it was a body. Below is the witnesses’ testimony as recorded in the crime scene report:
The full report, which you can read below, said that Johnson was reaching for a shoe, which was at the bottom of the vertically resting mat. Crime scene photos show that the shoe, which may not have been his own, had no blood on it although the floor around the shoe did.
Johnson was found found with his own shoes in the mat with him, but not on his feet. He also had a pair of headphones in one of his hands. The report also says that Johnson had been bleeding from his eyes, nose and mouth and that there was dried blood on his arms, chest and face.
The report states plainly, “There appeared to be no signs of blunt force trauma on Johnson’s face or body” — an assessment that was later reinforced by the autopsy but eventually disputed by a second autopsy.
2. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Called it an Accident
The first official autopsy was done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and found that the cause of death was asphyxia and that the death was an accident.
The first autopsy, which you can read in full directly below, reported the belief that Johnson had gone into the mat to reach a lost shoe when he became stuck in a position in which he could not breath.
3. The Family Has Hired Martin Family Attorney Benjamin Crump
The Johnson family hired Benjamin Crump earlier this year to advocate for re-opening Johnson’s case. Crump was an important figure in the family of Trayvon Martin’s case against George Zimmerman in the killing of their unarmed 17-year-old son.
Crump is already responsible for some of the Johnson family’s legal victories including their son’s exhumation this summer and the release of evidence in the investigation.
4. His Body Was Exhumed & Given a Different Cause of Death
After the exhumation the Johnson family brought in outside experts to conduct a new autopsy. The results of this autopsy, which you can see excepted above and as a full-length document below, found that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the right neck which then caused a heart attack.
The report makes a note to point out that it is not consistent with the “asphyxia” said to be the cause of death in the first autopsy. The second autopsy also revealed that many the internal organs of the body had been removed.
5. The Coroner Stuffed His Body with Newspaper
The second autopsy, which was filed on August 15, 2013, found that the, “viscera removed..initial autopsy is not present with the body.” Instead, Johnson’s chest cavity had been filled with newspaper.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution quotes Bill Watson the Lowndes County Corner as saying that the organs were too badly decomposed to be preserved and had to be disposed before the body was sent to the funeral home.
Johnson’s family and their representatives however, see this as evidence of a vast cover-up. Their attorney Crump told the AJC, “When you think about it logically, it seems to be some kind of conspiracy to conceal the truth about what happened to Kendrick and who did it to him.”
6. New Footage of Johnson in the Gym Were Released
The release of the above security camera footage is the latest legal victory for the Johnson family. The footage contains a brief clip of Johnson running toward the back of the gym by the mats just minutes before authorities believe the incident occurred that took his life.
Investigators are now looking through the footage and attorney Benjamin Crump believes, “There are two things this video will show us. First, that Kendrick did not get stuck in the mat and second, who else was in that gym.”
7. A Photo Allegedly of Johnson’s Face Just Days After Death Went Viral [GRAPHIC]
Part of the community’s rallying cry for justice and their suspicion of foul play comes from the graphic picture below. The photo, according to the R.I.P. Kendrick Johnson Facebook page, was taken just three days after Johnson was found dead rolled up in a gym mat and looks as if Johnson’s face had been badly beaten.
8. The School Has Reportedly Questioned Specific Students
CNN is reporting that several students are of interest to the school. These students have been questioned and their schedules and attendance records have been pulled.
Likewise, CNN is reporting that one high school student from a different school has been questioned.
9. The U.S. Attorney’s Office Is Getting Involved
Local news outlet The Valdosta Daily Times is now reporting that the Middle District of Georgia U.S. Attorney Michael Moore has announced that the federal government is planning to begin a formal review of Kendrick’s death.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has expressed that it is entering this contested investigation without biases or preconceived notions.
10. The Community is Calling for Justice
The Johnson family and the surrounding community has been outraged by the findings of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as well as the alleged conspiratorial cover-up by the coroner’s office. The community and family will only become more invested in their quest for truth and justice as evidence continues to trickle out in the investigations to come.