The federal court has issued subpoenas for classmates of Kendrick Johnson in an ongoing investigation regarding the teen’s death. Johnson, whose body was found rolled up in a wrestling mat in his high school gymnasium, died in 2013 amid speculation of foul play.
Former and current classmates could be seen entering the Macon, Georgia courthouse, after the federal investigation was reopened four months ago. Classmates at Lowndes High School and nearby Valdosta High School were subpoenaed, along with some of the students’ parents. Kendrick’s parents, Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson, claimed that the original probing into their son’s death was severely mishandled.
Local authorities originally ruled Johnson’s death to be suffocation after somehow falling into a wrestling mat in the high school gym on January 11 of 2013. Investigators concluded that he was reaching for a shoe and became lodged in the gym mat, unable to get out. Within 24 hours of finding Johnson’s body, Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office ruled there was no signs of foul play.
However, the 17-year-old’s parents were unable to believe that their son, an avid athlete who participated three sports at his high school, could meet a fate such as this. They allege that local authorities failed to follow proper protocol in the investigation, and may have even tampered with evidence. They believe the case was closed far too soon before taking the time to evaluate what happened at the scene.
Bill Watson, coroner for Lowndes County, sided with the parents and noted that Johnson’s body had been moved by local authorities prior to his arrival. Watson was not notified of the body until six hours after it was found, something that the coroner found unacceptable. Consequently, an autopsy report later revealed that Johnson had perished due to accidental asphyxiation. “It felt unreal,” said Kendrick’s mother.
The Johnsons buried their son, but were still unable to believe the purported cause of his death. Family supporters took to the streets and began to protest the now closed investigation. Finally, on May 1, 2013, a judge ruled to have Johnson exhumed at his parents’ request, in order to perform an independent autopsy. The new autopsy concluded that Johnson had suffered blunt force to the right side of the neck, “consistent with inflicted injury.” With the help of the family’s attorney and the outspoken supporters, the FBI opened a new investigation.
After interviewing over 100 classmates of Johnson’s, the federal agents issued subpoenas for an unknown number of them to appear as witness in front of a grand jury. Johnson’s parents were also interviewed. A subpoena was also issued for Lowndes County Schools, in order for the court to obtain surveillance video of the school from school hard drives.
Johnson’s mother, Jacquelyn, said the new interviews by the FBI have made her feel hope that they may see justice for her son. “I felt better because it’s another set of eyes looking into the case,” she said. Echoing a more disheartened sentiment, Kendrick’s father, Kenneth, told CNN that while they welcome the new look at the case, “my feelings won’t be there until we get justice for our son.”
By Nathan Rohenkohl
First Coast News