By Sorilbran Stone
The Johnson family is outraged and rightfully so.
On the morning of January 11th, the body of 17 year-old Kendrick Johnson was found at Lowndes High School rolled up in an athletic mat. The death was immediately ruled an accident by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department. Not the county coroner.
Despite the fact that Kendrick did not report to some of his classes the day before, it wasn’t until Kendrick’s father, Kenneth Johnson, became concerned that his son hadn’t returned home from school that Kendrick’s disappearance became an issue. Kendrick’s body was found in the school gym the following morning.
When the story first broke in mid-January, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department headed up the initial investigation. And the first curiosity emerged immediately. Nobody called in Bill Watson, the county coroner. When the Sheriff’s Department released its first guess at what transpired, the story seemed unlikely. Sheriff Chris Prine supposed Kendrick did in fact attend his third block classes on Thursday January 10th, but opted to skip his fourth block classes. The teen allegedly went into the school’s gym alone where he spent time atop the school’s athletic mats, which were rolled and standing vertically on their ends. Sheriff Prine guessed Kendrick dropped something into the mat – possibly a shoe or other article of clothing – then dove into the rolled cylinder after the shoe. They say he was unable to get himself out of the mat and suffocated as a result.
The only problem with that scenario is this. It is unlikely that the body of a teenage boy could slide into a rolled mat. Kendrick played both football and basketball for Lowndes High School. He was thin, but muscular. A picture of the boy’s father attempting to enter the mat the way the Lowndes County Sheriff is saying Kendrick entered the mat is displayed on Kendrick’s memorial page on Facebook. His attempts are unsuccessful as the opening is too slim to allow for anything but his head to enter the mat.
In the first week of May, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department released the autopsy report and said Kendrick died from “positional asphyxia.” The press release acknowledged the fact that the Sheriff’s Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation worked together on the case even though they did not kept the family up to date on the investigation. They insist the investigation had, in fact, been ongoing since January.
The Johnson Family is calling for a federal investigation into Kendrick’s death. They have gained the support of the National Action Network and The United Justice League. “We want an independent investigation, let’s just say, by an agency with higher credentials than Lowndes County,” said Marcus Coleman, President of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Action Network. “There’s been a number of what we feel are inconsistencies, are mishandlings, and for that very reason… we want another set of eyes.”
The mishandlings include: Lowndes High School’s refusal to release footage containing Kendrick in the final hours before his death, the Sheriff Department’s refusal to call in the coroner until hours after the body was found, the perceived carelessness and insensitivity of law enforcement in protecting the accident scene and securing any evidence found at the crime scene.
There is a post-mortem photo of Kendrick that has gone viral that is painfully reminiscent of the infamous images of Emmet Till. In it, Kendrick’s face shows signs of trauma, but the Sheriff’s Department insists Kendrick sustained no injuries.
Key questions remain unanswered. How in the world did Kendrick wedge himself into a rolled athletic mat? What was on the video that Lowndes High School is hanging on to? And finally, what really happened to (i.e. who killed) Kendrick Johnson?