Social pressure has helped the Kendrick Johnson case get a second look. Can accountability and transparency finally lead to justice?
Kendrick Johnson was a 17 year old student at Lowndes High School. Also known as KJ, he was an accomplished student-athlete who was close with his family. He played basketball, football and ran track. According to the Facebook page created by his family, KJ can be described as having a bright smile and a humble spirit.
Last time Kendrick is seen
Kendrick was last seen on January 10th, 2013 at 1:27 pm entering the old gym at his high school. At this time, Lowndes High School had two gyms, an ‘old’ gym, and a ‘new’ gym; the old gym became the main storage facility for the oversized wrestling mats. According to surveillance footage, a student entered the old gym before Kendrick did, but was confirmed that they were going to class. Kendrick is seen walking on the right side of the gym where the mats are located which is out of frame in the video.
In the surveillance footage, no one is seen following Kendrick. Around this same time, the Lowndes High School wrestling team was en route with a busload of 25 wrestlers heading to Macon, Georgia for a tournament. By 12:30 AM on January 11th, 2013; Jackie Johnson reports her son, Kendrick missing after he didn’t return home from school that evening.
The next day
On January 11th, 2013 Kendrick's body was discovered wrapped in a large wrestling mat in the old gym of Lowndes High School. A student noticed a set of socks sticking out of the mat and upon looking closer a student recognized Kendrick in one of the rolled standing mats. Officers were immediately called to the scene and the school was quickly put on lockdown. Almost a week later, his family and friends held a vigil in his honor.
The first autopsy
On May 2nd, 2013, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined Kendrick's death was an accident. The cause of death was positional asphyxia as a result of falling into the standing rolled-up mat and getting stuck while reaching for a shoe at the bottom of the mat. However, his family believes KJ was murdered as a result of the information in the paramedic's report.
The second autopsy
On June 6th, 2013, a judge granted the Johnson family permission to exhume their son for a second autopsy. A forensic pathologist in Orlando, Florida is hired by the family to perform the autopsy. A month later, the family filed a wrongful death suit against the Lowndes County Board of Education nearly a year after Kendrick’s death citing that the school board did not properly investigate an incident between Kendrick and another classmate. On September 3rd, 2013, the results of Kendrick’s second autopsy were revealed. The independent pathologist stated that Kendrick’s cause of death was “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma”.
The third autopsy
Five years later, the Johnson family once again filed for Kendrick’s body to be exhumed and scheduled a third autopsy. On November 15th, 2018, the results determined that the cause of death was non-accidental, blunt force trauma to his right neck and right thorax.
Where the case stands today
After three separate autopsies, the Johnson family is still actively fighting for justice for Kendrick. The family petitioned that the case be reopened in October 2019 in hopes of reviewing all evidence by new eyes. By March 2021, the court granted the request.
Can accountability and transparency finally lead to justice?