Kendrick Johnson’s case closed after authorities say no crime found

"This is how you roll in Valdosta," the dead teen's mother, Jaqueline Johnson, said of the Lowndes County Sheriff's new findings.

A sheriff in Valdosta, Georgia, has concluded that there is no evidence of a crime in the January 2013 death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School. 

The new findings were the result of a second investigation by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office following one by the FBI. Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk told WSB-TV his office reviewed the FBI’s findings, as well as 17 boxes of evidence, and reached that decision.

In this December 2013 photo, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson stand next to a banner on their SUV showing their late son, Kendrick Johnson, in Valdosta, Ga. (Photo: AP)

Local authorities’ investigation has found, once again, that Johnson may have reached into the mat to retrieve a shoe, got stuck, then suffocated. Video shows him walking into the Lowndes High gym on Jan. 10, 2013. His body was discovered by a teacher the next day rolled up inside the gym mat.

Paulk’s 16-page report, which was released Wednesday and published on Scribd, is divided into nine categories, including conspiring/cover, shoe storage in wresting mats, a fight that occurred on a bus trip among the wrestling team of which Johnson was a member, the teen’s autopsy and observations after the discovery of his body. It includes photographs from the school’s gymnasium.

“You do not believe there was anything criminal?” reporter Tony Thomas asked Paulk. “I do not,” he replied.

“This is a very unusual accident. But still an accident?” Thomas wondered.

“Yeah,” Paulk said.

The dead teen’s mother, Jaqueline Johnson, told the TV station she is not surprised by the sheriff’s findings. “We already knew that nothing was going to be done on your watch,” she contended. “This is how you roll in Valdosta.” She and her family maintain that young Kendrick was murdered. 

“You didn’t find nothing in 17 boxes? That’s the craziest lie you could have told,” Johnson said of Paulk’s probe. “We already knew what team you were on. You are not on the team of righteousness.”

The family is raising $400,000 to “benefit the Kendrick Johnson Foundation’s mission to raise awareness on the need for increased supervision and safety within our public schools.” In their GoFundMe page post, Johnson writes, “On January 10, 2013, Kendrick’s life was tragically cut short when he was discovered dead in a rolled-up gym mat, under highly suspicious circumstances.” 

“A subsequent autopsy conducted by our forensic pathologist subsequently confirmed our worst nightmare that our son’s death was no accident,” she continues. “Kendrick died as a result of blunt force trauma to his person. As parents, our hearts are broken, but we are determined to prevent a tragedy of this magnitude from occurring again.” 

In March of last year, the family received an audio clip from a tipster who was paid for the information; in part, the voice said, “I was just young and stupid. Kendrick didn’t deserve this.”

Following public outcry, the Justice Department also investigated Kendrick’s death in 2013 and closed its case in 2016, finding “insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges.”

The report from the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office was published by the Valdosta Daily Times newspaper on Wednesday. In it, Paulk wrote, “I am quite sure that there will still be a contingent that will believe there was foul play. I encourage everyone to study ALL the evidence in this file before forming an opinion.”

Have you subscribed to the Grio podcasts “Dear Culture” or “Acting Up?” Download our newest episodes now!
TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Download theGrio today!