Investigation reopened into death of student found in rolled-up gym mat

Kendrick Johnson was found in gymnasium of Lowndes High School on 11 January 2013

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 10 March 2021 22:37
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Kendrick Johnson was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in a Georgia High School in 2013.
Kendrick Johnson was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in a Georgia High School in 2013.

The investigation into the strange death of a Georgia High School student who was found in a rolled-up gym mat in 2013 has been reopened after mounting pressure from the student's family.

Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found in the gymnasium of Lowndes High School on 11 January 2013. Investigators said the death was an accident after an autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, arguing that Mr Johnson had suffocated while reaching for a pair of shoes.

The family had the body exhumed and two autopsies performed on their own. Both procedures concluded that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the neck, but federal investigators said the GBI autopsy was more credible.

According to Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk, they have been trying to get the documents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for almost a year. Seventeen boxes of new material have so far reached the Sheriff's office, according to WFXL.

In June 2016, the US Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia said: "After extensive investigation into this tragic event, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people wilfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime."

Read more: Atlanta DA asks court who should prosecute police officers

Mr Johnson’s mother Jacquelyn Johnson told CNN Tuesday: “It’s been eight long years. I’m feeling hopeful.”

The Johnson family has filed several lawsuits alleging that Mr Johnson's death was covered up after collaboration between the school superintendent, an FBI agent, and a former Sheriff.

Ms Johnson and Kendrick's father Kenneth Johnson have also accused two brothers at Lowndes High School of killing their son, The Daily Mail writes.

Video footage showed that the brothers were not near the scene where Kendrick Johnson was last seen and a judge accused the parents of manufacturing evidence.

They were ordered to pay $300,000 in legal fees to those they accused of committing, and those they said covered up the crime.

The Department of Justice also said in their 2016 statement that "the investigation included, among other things, interviewing nearly 100 people; reviewing tens of thousands of emails and text messages; reviewing surveillance videos from Lowndes High School; and analysing other available information regarding the events of January 10-11, 2013".

Sheriff Paulk told CNN that a mix of old and new investigators will be used in the case. The first interview was conducted Monday in the reopened investigation which could take up to six months.

Kenneth Johnson said he hopes Mr Paulk "does the right thing. I just hope that the truth comes out".

The school is in the town of Valdosta, about 15 miles from the Florida border. The county has about 117,000 people.

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