In January of 2013, Kenneth Johnson got a call no parent ever wants to get.
His son, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, was dead. Found in a rolled-up gym mat, officials at Lowndes County High School in south Georgia concluded the athlete had been reaching for his sneaker when he fell headfirst into the mats.
A medical examiner backed up that claim, confirming Kendrick died of position asphyxia on that fateful day. For authorities, Kendrick’s case was clear and cut — it fit in a tidy, neat box that need not be revisited.
But Kenneth Johnson never believed it. At the request of the family, Kendrick’s body was exhumed and another autopsy performed, which concluded what the Johnson family already knew.
Since then, the family, along with their attorney Benjamin Crump, have been fighting school officials and the sheriff’s department to get the answers they deserve about their son’s death.
And with the release of new surveillance video (that may have been edited) of Kendrick in the gym raising more questions than answering, it’s time for us to explore the unsettling facts and evidence that support the Johnson family’s theory.
Their son, Kendrick Johnson, was killed.
Here’s what we know.
The Gym Mat:
Since his son was found rolled in a gym mat, Kenneth Johnson has been critical about how Kendrick, whose shoulders measured 19 inches across, could fit in an opening that was 14 inches across. His mother, Jacqueline, also questions how Kendrick’s 5’10 frame was invisible to a gym full of people.
“How in a room full of people could he go and get his shoes but gets stuck and nobody sees him until the next day?’” she said. “Kendrick’s 5-foot-10 and you couldn’t have gotten stuck because if his arms were suspended going into the mat to reach for the shoes that would mean the rest of his body would be sticking up.”
The sheriff’s office maintains that Kendrick fell headfirst into the mat, denying the fact that he was rolled.
On a wall near the body, blood splatters were found and tagged at the scene. A bloody tissue, which was found by the bathroom, did not belong to Kendrick. However, the samples found on the wall tested inconclusive.
Authorities maintain that forensic testing does not support a struggle or a fight. And when asked if the blood could belong to another student with information about Kendrick, Lt. Stryde Jones said the chances of determining who it belonged to among 3,000 students was slim.
The shoes found near Kendrick’s body were splattered with red matter, however authorities said this wasn’t blood. It was not collected as evidence.
A sweatshirt found nearby appeared to have speckles of blood, however, it also was not included in the evidence.
Kendrick, described as a kind, smart and responsible teenager who didn’t have enemies, did run into a bit of trouble with a teammate when he was a freshman in high school.
According to the Daily Mail: Kendrick was a freshman player when he was traveling home with a defeated varsity team on the same bus. On the back of the bus one of the senior players on the team allegedly picked a fight with Kendrick, known as ‘K.J.’ to his friends. The player, who MailOnline is not naming, was trading barbs with Johnson about each other’s mothers – when the younger freshmen seemed to outwit the varsity player.
‘They start saying mama jokes and my son got the best of him with the jokes and he came at him and tried to put him in a headlock, and my son got away from him and he put it to him real good,’ said Mr Johnson.
According to one of Kendrick’s best friends the attack was unprovoked. ‘This kid came out of nowhere,’ Rickey Giddens, 17, told MailOnline about the ‘real big’ unidentified boy.
Authorities tried to question the boy after Kendrick’s death, but he preferred through his parents not to make a statement. Surveillance video does not show the boy in the gym at the time of Kendrick’s death.
The Death Threat:
Kendrick’s best friend, Soloman Arrington, 16, came forward to tell police about Facebook threats he received just hours after he learned that his friend was dead.
His mother told media that the message said her son would “end up in a body bag.” She reported the message to a detective from the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, but she said he quickly downplayed any connection.
The Second Autopsy:
The Johnson family, skeptical about the details surrounding their son’s death, launched their own investigation and exhumed Kendrick’s body in May of 2013. A private pathologist found that the teen died of “unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma,” not from asphyxiation.
That pathologist, Dr. William R. Anderson, also issued a report in August saying he detected hemorrhaging on the right side of Johnson’s neck. The original medical examiner maintains that Kendrick suffocated after falling in the mat.
In a sickening twist in Kendrick’s mysterious death, that second autopsy also revealed that Kendrick’s body had been stuffed with newspaper where his organs should have been.
According to CNN, GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said the organs were placed in Johnson’s body before it was sent to a funeral home. The funeral home’s owner, Antonio Harrington, wrote to the family that his firm never received the teen’s organs, claiming they were “discarded by the prosecutor.”
Police claim the video, which was released on Wednesday, is not edited. However, one clip shows Johnson in the gym. A second shows him walking in, then running out of the frame. In both videos, students suddenly appear with no explanation of how they got there. And a third clip shows students playing in the gym and the mats where Johnson’s body was found, however it is blurry. That clip also does not show the top of the gym mats.
You can watch the video, taken from 36 surveillance cameras at the high school, above.