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Unanswered questions in death of Black Ga. teen Kendrick Johnson

Cyril Josh Barker | 10/24/2013, 5:32 p.m.
Kendrick Johnson

The case involving the death of Black 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson in south Georgia is gaining national attention due to the family’s claims that the student-athlete was murdered. However, authorities have closed the case.

The situation stems back to January, when Johnson was found dead inside of a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Ga. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said Johnson suffocated himself while trying to get a sneaker. While authorities said the death was an accident and closed the case, the family believes otherwise.

An initial autopsy by the GBI found that Johnson died of positional asphyxia, which led them to close the case. The family, however, wants the case opened back up after they conducted their own investigation that included a second autopsy by a private pathologist this summer after his body was exhumed.

Johnson’s body cavity was stuffed with newspaper and his organs were removed before his burial for unexplained reasons. His body was reportedly found head first in the gym mat. Johnson’s parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, are now in a fight to get answers and open the case back up.

“I feel outraged about them stuffing my son’s body with newspaper,” Jacquelyn Johnson said in one report. “Just to know that we’re fighting for Kendrick is what gets me up in the morning. We know we’ve got to fight a little harder every day.”

The new autopsy found that Johnson died from “unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma.” New surveillance tape of what happened to Johnson the day of death has surfaced, and that should also give answers. The tape shows him walking across the gym floor—and not by himself. There were four cameras in the gym.

“Every parent all over the world would want to have a son like Kendrick,” Kenneth Johnson said in a televised interview. “Kendrick was a great boy.”

At a press conference this week, the Rev. Floyd Rose, a pastor at Serenity Christian Church and president of the Valdosta-Lowndes County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, announced that he is offering a $10,000 reward for information. He hopes someone will come forward with information about Johnson’s death.

“The Johnsons have suffered pain, anguish, heartache far more than any of the rest of us will know,” he said.

The family has enlisted the help of attorney Benjamin Crump, best known as the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin. The Johnsons have an Oct. 30 court date for a hearing with a Lowndes County judge and have asked that the surveillance tape be added to the evidence in the case.

The Johnsons are also hopeful that the U.S. Justice Department will get involved and eventually lead a formal investigation, which the Georgia NAACP is also calling for.

“If you have a video surveillance that shows what happened to Kendrick Johnson, doesn’t the family at least deserve to see the truth?” Crump said to a local media outlet.