From the time Kendrick Johnson’s lifeless body was found inside an upright gym mat in his high school’s old gymnasium a year ago this month, his parents and their attorneys have insisted the 17-year-old was murdered. They’ve since expanded their claim to allege a cover-up perpetrated by law enforcement officials.
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Kendrick Johnson’s final hours
Though there were several cameras in Lowndes High School’s old gymnasium, none of them captured Kendrick Johnson’s final moments. What follows is the official account of Kendrick’s death, juxtaposed with questions raised by the teen’s parents and attorneys.
- Why was he on the mats? According to Lowndes County Sheriff’s Lt. Stryde Jones, who supervised the investigation, Kendrick stored his gym shoes, which he shared with a friend, underneath the mats — a common practice among students at the high school. Typically, Jones said, Kendrick would tilt the mat to retrieve the sneakers. But on Jan. 10, investigators say, he reached into the mat from above. Jones said he believes Kendrick was running late for a weight training class and, in his haste, reached for the shoe from above instead of pulling the other mats away.
- What about blood on the wall, found not far from where the body was discovered? “We know it wasn’t Kendrick Johnson’s blood,” Jones said. “We did DNA testing. The other thing that was very telling to us is the lack of blood. There was no blood anywhere around the exterior of the mats.”
- Was the raw video footage doctored, as alleged by the Johnsons? According to Jones, “They aren’t gaps, they are periods of time where there’s no activity.” The cameras, he said, are motion-activated.
- Why was the one camera pointing in Kendrick’s direction out of focus? Jones said school personnel told detectives the camera had gotten hit by a ball some time ago. “It had been blurry for a while.”
How we got the story
Reporter Christian Boone has been following the Kendrick Johnson case since last summer. The AJC received the 522-page case file from the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department last November, along with the corresponding surveillance footage taken of the gymnasium where Kendrick’s body was found. Earlier this month, the newspaper returned to Valdosta and met with the lieutenant who supervised the investigation. We also interviewed civil rights activists and the family of two brothers who’ve been linked to the case by some who believe the teen’s death was not an accident. All along, the AJC has been talking with Kendrick’s family and their attorneys.