On January 11th, 2013, the body of 18-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found inside of a vertical rolled-up mat in the gym at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia. Kendrick was a student at Lowndes High School.
The autopsy that was carried out by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) stated that Kendrick had died of positional asphyxia (where the position that someone is in causes them to not be able to breathe properly), and so investigators in Lowndes County ruled Kendrick’s death as an accident just 24 hours after his body had been found.
Investigators said that they believe Kendrick fell into the mat whilst he was looking for a shoe and died after getting trapped. Students at Lowndes High School said that it was common for students to store their shoes either behind or under the rolled-up mats. Kendrick was not wearing any shoes when he was found.
One student who shared a pair of Adidas trainers with Kendrick said that after gym class, Kendrick would always: “Go to the mats, jump up, and toss the shoes inside the middle of the hole.”
Kendrick’s family were not happy with the outcome of the investigation and hired an independent medical examiner to conduct an autopsy. William R. Anderson conducted the autopsy on the 15th of June, 2013 in Heathrow, Florida.
Anderson found traces of blunt force trauma to the right neck and soft tissues and suggested that Kendrick did not die accidentally.
After the opinion of the private autopsy was released, Kendrick’s family announced that they believe Kendrick was murdered and retained the services of attorney Benjamin Crump.
On the 31st of October 2013, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore announced that his office would open a formal review into Kendrick’s case. After Benjamin Crump was not ruled to represent Kendrick’s parents in Georgia, he withdrew from representing the family and is no longer involved in Kendrick’s case.
Kendrick’s family then filed a legal action to open a coroner’s inquest into his death. However, the judge in the case delayed the outcome, stating that he was waiting for the conclusion of the U.S Attorney’s case. This then caused the family, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and other civil rights activists, to hold a rally at the Georgia State Capital in Atlanta.
The governor’s office then shortly released a statement saying that they would wait until the U.S. Attorney had finished their report on the case.
The independent autopsy also found that sometime between the autopsy by the GBI, and being transported through a funeral home, Kendrick’s body had been stuffed with newspapers.
The funeral home said that when they received Kendrick’s body, his organs had already been “destroyed through the natural process” and that they had been “discarded by the prosecutor before the body had been sent back to Valdosta.” The owner of the funeral home then stated that it was common practice to fill a void in a body using newspaper, sometimes even using cotton or sawdust as an alternative.
Kendrick’s family then filed a complaint against the funeral home, and an investigation by Georgia’s Secretary of State found that the funeral home did not follow “best practice” and that there was another material more acceptable than newspaper, but ultimately the funeral home was cleared of any wrongdoings.
Kendrick’s family then filed a civil lawsuit against the funeral home, seeking monetary damages.
In November 2013, 290 hours of CCTV footage from 35 cameras that covered the gym area were released to the news broadcaster CNN following a court request.
A forensic analyst from CNN found that tapes from two cameras were missing 1 hour and 5 minutes of footage, and another set of tapes was missing 2 hours and 10 minutes of footage. Some of the missing footage was said to have been from camera systems that were not synchronised with each other.
Another reason for the missing footage is that the camera’s motion trigger wasn’t activated, therefore the cameras didn’t turn on.
The location in which Kendrick’s body was discovered was outside of the range of all of the cameras.
The missing footage made Kendrick’s family believe that parts of the footage had been purposefully edited by someone to remove whatever was on the tapes.
Kendrick’s family filed a “wrongful death” lawsuit against Lowndes County Board of Education, its superintendent and the principal of Lowndes High School. Their lawsuit said that Kendrick was: “violently assaulted, severely injured, suffered great physical pain and mental anguish, and subjected to insult and loss of life” on the 10th of January, 2013.
It is important to note that the lawsuit implied that there were racist undertones to Kendrick’s assault, but the suit never named the people or the races of the people who were allegedly involved in the January 10th assault.
The lawsuit said that the defendants ignored reports that Kendrick had been repeatedly attacked and harassed by a white student, and that the defendants were negligent and violated Kendrick’s constitutional right to equal protection based on race. It stated that Kendrick was attacked on a bus trip 14 months before he died and that another student at the school had a history of “provoking and attacking” Kendrick at school. It even stated that the provocations took place “in the presence of coaching staff and employees” after Kendrick’s mother had complained about the previous attacks.
The suit also alleged that the school officials “failed to properly maintain the activities of the students throughout all areas of the campus” and also “failed to maintain functioning video surveillance system.”
Unfortunately, this lawsuit was dismissed in court.
In August 2014, a $5 million lawsuit was launched against Ebony Magazine, after the magazine had published several articles that named the two students as the possible suspects in Kenrick’s death. Although they used fake names, the descriptions of the boys were incredibly accurate, down to the fact that their father was an FBI agent. In their lawsuit, the parents of the boys stated that their sons were not involved in Kendrick’s death, and they have not been considered suspects, but they have been harassed due to the articles being published.
The two brothers who were suspected to be involved in Kendrick’s death were spotted on CCTV in a different part of the school when Kendrick was in the gym, so while they may not be involved directly, it doesn’t exclude the possibility of them not being involved at all.
In January 2015, Kendrick’s family filed a $100 million lawsuit against 38 people, including; three of Kendrick’s school friends, local, state and federal officials, the school superintendent of Lowndes County, the Valdosta-Lowndes crime lab, the police chief of Valdosta, many sheriff’s deputies, the city of Valdosta, the state medical examiner, the GBI and five of its agents and one FBI agent.
This lawsuit alleged that the FBI agent ordered his two sons and a classmate to attack Kendrick, meaning that Kendrick’s death was a murder and that the other respondents engaged in a conspiracy to cover up the murder.
In November 2015, Kendrick’s parents dismissed their own lawsuit, as the U.S Attorney’s Office was still investigating this case. They said that they hoped to reopen the lawsuit once the federal investigation had reached its conclusion.
Kendrick’s parents were then sued for more than $850,000 in attorney fees and $1,000,000 in defamation damages.
On the 20th of June, 2016, the Department of Justice announced that they would not be filing any criminal charges against anyone relating to Kendrick’s death. The Department of Justice stated that “there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone, or a group of people, willfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights, or committed any other prosecutable federal crime.”
On August 10th, 2017, Georgia Judge Richard Porter ruled that the Kendrick family and their attorney had to pay $292,000 in legal fees to the dozens of people in their civil suit, saying that: “testimony shows that they had no evidence to support their claims that the brothers killed Johnson or that any of the other defendants engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the cause or manner of Johnson’s death.”
On the 10th of March, 2021, Kendrick’s case was officially reopened. Lowndes County Sheriff, Ashley Paulk, stated that the reopening of the case did not mean that he thought there was anything wrong with the original investigation, or that the original investigation conclusion of accidental death was wrong. The sheriff also noted that he does not think that Kendrick’s case is a homicide and that the two brothers who were originally accused of being involved in Kendrick’s case, are not considered suspects.
On February 1st, 2022, it was reported that Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk is offering $500,000 of his own money to anyone that comes forward with information that results in the arrest and conviction of a person for the alleged murder of Kendrick Johnson.
Paulk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had been spurred to offer the reward after being accused by Kendrick’s family of being a liar.
“After the release of my synopsis of the federal files on the Kendrick Johnson case, his parents have called me a liar and continue to state that Kendrick was murdered,” Paulk told Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Ya’ll please know we’re not worried. We already knew that Paulk was gone lie.” Kendrick’s mother, Jackie, wrote according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Whilst I usually like to report an unbiased account of what happened, with this case I feel compelled to share my thoughts that Kendrick Johnson was murdered, and most likely a victim of a racial-based crime. I have shared a petition below that is asking for Justice for Kendrick, which I highly recommend signing. I have also shared the Facebook Page “Justice for Kendrick Johnson” which is updated regularly by the family and supporters. I truly hope that whoever was responsible for Kendrick’s death gets brought to justice, and I for one will never stop fighting for Kendrick and his family.
Unsolved, Injustice, Homicide, USA, True Crime, Investigation, FBI, Conspiracy