The Sheriff of Lowndes County, GA announced on Tuesday that he has reopened the investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson, the 17-year-old found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in a school’s gym eight years ago.
On January 10, 2013, Kendrick, a sophomore at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, GA, was reported missing by his mother. Kendrick never returned home after leaving for school earlier that morning. Kendrick’s body was discovered inside a large, rolled-up wrestling mat inside the school’s gym the following day.
In May of the same year, the teen’s death was ruled an accident. Lowndes County investigators’ official story was that Kendrick died of positional asphyxia. They said their investigation concluded that Kendrick had climbed on top of the six-foot-tall rolled-up gym mat while trying to obtain a shoe. While on top of the mat, he accidentally slipped head first into the opening, got stuck, and eventually died of asphyxiation.
However, an autopsy conducted by a pathologist hired by Johnson’s family determined that the cause of death was “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt-force trauma” to the neck.
Johnson’s parents have said they think their son was killed.
The investigation was closed 5 years ago, after federal investigators concluded 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.”
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said he requested documents from the federal investigation back in April of 2019 but he was told he could not have them at the time. That changed this week.
After being urged by the Johnson family, a federal judge finally released documents and evidence in the case.
According to Paulk, his office received 17 boxes of written and electronic evidence from the federal investigation.
“The investigation included, among other things, interviewing nearly 100 people; reviewing tens of thousands of emails and text messages; reviewing surveillance videos from Lowndes High School; and analyzing other available information regarding the events of January 10-11, 2013,” Justice Department officials said in their 2016 statement.
On Tuesday, Paulk announced he had reopened the investigation into the teen’s death.
“It’s been eight long years,” Johnson’s mother, Jacquelyn Johnson, told CNN on Tuesday. “I’m feeling hopeful.”
Paulk said the investigation could take up to six months.
“My plan is to see if there are any discrepancies between the reports,” said Paulk, who is leading the investigation.
He added he has no predisposition regarding the case.
“I’m hoping that he does the right thing,” Johnson’s father, Kenneth Johnson said of Paulk. “I just hope that the truth comes out.”