The parents of a Georgia teenager whose body was found inside a rolled-up wrestling mat at his school said this past Thursday they have a new reason to believe their son was the victim of foul play and that it has been covered up by the authorities. He was missing most of his internal organs from his autopsy and he ended up being buried without them.
Kendrick Johnson, who was 17 at the time of his death, was discovered on Jan. 11 of this year in southern Georgia in his school’s gym. A sheriff’s investigation determined that he had died in a freak accident where he had fallen on his head into an upright gym mat and became trapped. Johnson’s family thought he was murdered and had been putting pressure on the police into taking a second look at their son’s case.
The teenager’s family said on Thursday that they had retained the services of Benjamin Crump, the attorney who helped get a criminal hearing in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. He has combined his efforts to help them reopen the inquiry into Johnson’s death. The teen’s parents also stated that when Johnson’s body was dug up over the summer in order to be given a second autopsy, the pathologist doing the review revealed his organs were missing and that newspaper had been stuffed inside to plug up his empty body cavity.
Johnson’s mother Jaquelyn stated she felt outrage about her son being stuffed with something such as newspaper and wanted to know where his organs were
Crump, who aided in getting national focus of Martin, explained the findings give rise to questioning why the teenager’s organs went missing in the first place and were not examined in the autopsy the family wanted. There does seem to be some sort of conspiracy to conceal the truth about what happened to Kendrick and who did it to him, Crump added.
School administrators discovered the boy’s body in the gym after he had been reported missing by his parents the night before. He was upside down inside a wrestling mat which was rolled and propped straight up behind some bleachers.
Sheriff Chris Prine has stated he believed Johnson became stuck after attempting to get a shoe which had fallen to the middle of the large mat. To back him up, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations decided he died from positional suffocation because his body got stuck in a position where he was unable to breathe.
However, in May, a judge decided to go ahead and exhume the teen’s body, and his parents hired Dr. William R. Anderson to give them another opinion. The pathologist offered a report of what he found and it read that he spotted hemorrhaging on the right of Johnson’s neck. He added that the teenager died from what he believed to be blunt force trauma around his carotid artery, and that he felt the lethal blow was no accident.
Anderson also discovered that the majority of Johnson’s internal organs were missing and his body cavity was stuffed with newspaper.
Coroner Bill Watson, who worked on the teen, said many of Johnson’s organs were thought too seriously decayed to be preserved and were disposed of before his body was sent to the funeral home. It could have happened during or immediately after the autopsy, he explained, but he could not remember for sure.
Harrington Funeral Home in Valdosta, GA, which took care of Johnson’s body, rerouted calls to attorney Roy Copeland. He stated that Johnson’s organs were gone when the body came to the funeral home. He also added that it is usual embalming procedure to fill bare body space in empty cavities with items such as cotton or even sawdust.
Medical examiners usually remove the internal organs for autopsies. After they are over, the organs are usually put in a plastic bag and put back inside the body. If organs are missing, as in organ donor cases, the empty space in the body is usually filled with some type of preservative powder or even cotton. Newspaper is not something that seems to be commonly used, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office. They are in charge of regulating how funeral homes are run in the state and are stepping in to see how Johnson’s body was handled and decide if anything was done wrong.
In the meantime, the teenager’s parents are organizing a lawsuit to ask a judge to order a coroner’s investigation into the death of their child, said Chevene King, who is a lawyer working for the family. This would present all the evidence in Johnson’s death in a hearing which is similar to a trial. Johnson’s parents hope that this will change the manner of death that was put on the boy’s death certificate. They want it to go from accidental to homicide and this will then open the way to a criminal investigation being opened. But even so, where the teen’s missing organs went after his autopsy will probably never be known for sure.
Written by: Kimberly Ruble