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Death of Georgia student, 17, found in a rolled-up gym mat in 2013 is REOPENED

Georgia authorities announced last week that they were relaunching the investigation into the death of a black teen whose body was found inside a rolled-up gym mat in his high school in 2013. 

The announcement comes after federal authorities have agreed to release documents from their two-year investigation into Kendrick Johnson’s death, which they completed in 2016. They said at the time there wasn’t enough evidence to ‘prove beyond a reasonable doubt’ that a federal crime had occurred. 

Now, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said that the sheriff’s office is going to look over all relevant information pertaining to the death of Kendrick Johnson.  

Kendrick’s body was discovered in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School, where he was a sophomore, on January 11, 2013.  

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said that the sheriff’s office is going to look over all relevant information pertaining to the death of Kendrick Johnson (pictured)

Kendrick's body was discovered in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School, where he was a sophomore, on January 11, 2013

Kendrick’s body was discovered in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School, where he was a sophomore, on January 11, 2013

State and local investigators ruled the teen’s death an accident, saying he suffocated after getting stuck inside the mat while reaching for a pair of sneakers. 

An autopsy was completed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations shortly after the 17-year-old’s death and concluded that Kendrick died from ‘accidental positional asphyxia’, meaning his body was in a position that prohibited him from breathing. 

According to Paulk (pictured), his agency has been trying to get the documents from the GBI for almost a year - starting April 2, 2020. Both he and Kendrick Johnson's father, Kenneth, hand wrote letters to obtain the documents.

According to Paulk (pictured), his agency has been trying to get the documents from the GBI for almost a year – starting April 2, 2020. Both he and Kendrick Johnson’s father, Kenneth, hand wrote letters to obtain the documents.

The Johnson family had the body exhumed and had two autopsies performed, both of which listed the teen’s cause of death as blunt force trauma. Federal investigators said the autopsy conducted by the GBI was more credible.    

According to Paulk, his agency has been trying to get the documents from the GBI for almost a year – starting April 2, 2020. Both he and Kendrick Johnson’s father, Kenneth, hand wrote letters to obtain the documents. 

‘I felt it was a pretty good Christmas, got a call right before Christmas that they were going to release them to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office,’ Paulk added. 

The documents have started to come in boxes, with 17 reaching the sheriff’s office so far. The boxes contain hard drives, paperwork and other material. 

Paulk – who recently came out of retirement in 2017 – would not speak further on what was in the documents as they remain sealed. He did say that the investigation could take up to six months, CNN reports. 

Footage showing the teen’s last moments

‘My plan is to see if there are any discrepancies between the reports,’ Paulk, who is leading the investigation, added. 

Kenneth Johnson, Kendrick’s father, was cautiously optimistic about the reopening.  

‘I’m hoping that he does the right thing,’ Kenneth Johnson said of the sheriff. ‘I just hope that the truth comes out.’

Despite the unusual nature of Kendrick’s death, officials still believe it was an accident. 

Kendrick pictured with his mother. The fmaily is cautiously optimistic about the reopening of the cae

Kendrick pictured with his mother. The fmaily is cautiously optimistic about the reopening of the cae

The family has filed multiple lawsuits alleging that the school district's superintendent, an FBI agent and a former sheriff conspired to cover-up Kendrick's death. Kendrick's parents Jackie and Kenneth Johnson

The family has filed multiple lawsuits alleging that the school district’s superintendent, an FBI agent and a former sheriff conspired to cover-up Kendrick’s death. Kendrick’s parents Jackie and Kenneth Johnson

In 2016, the Justice Department stated that there was ‘insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people willfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime.’

The family has filed multiple lawsuits alleging that the school district’s superintendent, an FBI agent and a former sheriff conspired to cover-up Kendrick’s death. 

Jackie and Kenneth also accused two students at Lowndes High School, brothers Brian and Brandon Bell, of murdering Kendrick. 

Video evidence showed the boys were not near the gymnasium when Kendrick was last seen and a judge in the case accused Jackie and Kenneth of fabricating evidence to support their claims. 

The Johnsons were ordered to pay $300,000 in attorney fees to those they accused of killing their son and the parties they alleged covered up the crime. 

The high school is located in Valdosta, just 15 miles from the border of Florida.    


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