GEORGIA – The parents of a Georgia teenager who died in unusual and suspicious circumstances held an emotional press conference Thursday on what would have been their son’s eighteenth birthday.
Standing on the steps of Lowndes County Courthouse in Valdosta, Georgia, Kenneth Johnson expressed sorrow and disbelief his son died on the cusp of being a man in such tragic circumstances.
Flanked by his lawyers and family, Mr. Johnson said, “Today is Kendrick’s 18th birthday. I want to say to the school, to the sheriff’s department, let’s give him a good present today. Give us the video tape.”
Seventeen-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in Lowndes High School on January 11.
The family’s attorney, Chevene King, said they are now involved in legal wrangling to get authorities to release videotape from inside the gym where the teen was killed.
“For some unknown reason, this tape has been withheld,” Mr. King told reporters and a few dozen supporters at the media conference today.
“It’s devastating,” said Mrs. Johnson in an interview with theGrio afterwards. “It’s heartbreaking because there’s been no justice. They treated him like he was non-human.”
“By throwing themselves [Mr. and Mrs. Johnson] into this movement [it] allows them to embrace what’s happened in a way that keeps their feet moving. You don’t have the opportunity to wallow or feel helpless,” Mr. King told theGrio.
The initial autopsy found that the teenager, a three-sport athlete, died from accidental asphyxia but the family believes it was murder. Their fears have been backed by a second independent autopsy that found evidence to conclude Johnson died of “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma.”
In a horrific new twist it has just been revealed that Johnson’s internal organs were removed and parts of his body stuffed with newspapers. Mr. King said he believes this might be part of a cover up to get rid of evidence.
“The idea that you could send your child to school and something like this happens is mind-boggling enough,” said Mr. King. “But when the very institutions that are charged with the responsibility of looking after your children refuse to give you answers then you have a total breakdown of faith and confidence in these institutions.”
“This is a real life murder mystery,” said attorney Ben Crump, who has who recently joined the case. “They sent their son to school with a book bag and he returned in a body bag. I was brought in to bring national attention to this to case so we can get to the truth and find out who murdered Kendrick Johnson.”
Mr. King said Lowndes High School, which is predominately white, “has earned its reputation as a football powerhouse.” He believes segments of the community are trying to protect the status of the football team and the school.
Indeed, Lowndes County sheriff has declared the case closed. The U.S. Justice Department said in September that it wouldn’t open a civil rights investigation.
But Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney for the district that includes Valdosta, is reviewing the case and weighing whether to open his own investigation.
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