A Georgia teenager thought to have died in a freak accident in a high school gym earlier this year was actually murdered, according to a new autopsy report.
On January 11, the body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found behind the bleachers of his high school gym in Valdosta, Ga., when another student noticed two sock-clad feet protruding from a rolled up gym mat, which was propped up vertically against a wall. Johnson’s body was inside.
But how did a talented, multi-sport student-athlete end up trapped inside a gym mat to the point where, according to the initial autopsy conclusions, he died of asphyxiation? Though the gym was initially treated as a crime scene by police, a four-month investigation ended up concluding that the death of Johnson (pictured) was a bizarre but tragic accident.
Investigators concluded that the basketball, track and football star crawled into the rolled-up mat to pull out a pair of black-and-white Adidas sneakers. It wouldn’t be unusual for shoes to be inside the mat. Students were known to store their sneakers in the gym mats as a cheap alternative to lockers.
In June, Johnson’s family, unsatisfied with the official explanation, paid for Kendrick’s body to be exhumed and autopsied a second time by an independent examiner.
Though the initial coroner’s report found no evidence of blunt force trauma to Kendrick’s body — despite the EMTs who took Kendrick’s body reporting bruises on his jaw — Dr. William R. Anderson of Forensic Dimensions in Heathrow, Fla., found something quite different.
Surveillance footage at Lowndes County High School showed Kendrick entering the gym shortly after 1 p.m. on Jan. 10 and walking off in the direction of the gym mats. Everything seemed normal. Soon after, other kids enter the gym and could be seen on camera playing basketball. Kendrick had not reappeared.
At some point, Anderson found, Kendrick suffered an impact to the right side of his neck.
“This is unexplained — most very, very likely inflicted, as opposed to something he caused himself,” Anderson told CNN. He added that the death needs to be investigated “as an open homicide.”
The family asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation, but the department declined, citing lack of evidence of a civil rights violation.
SOURCES: UPI, CNN, Fox News, Valdosta Daily Times, Grantland