The severely beaten body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found inside a rolled-up wrestling mat on January 11, 2013. His remains were discovered in the gymnasium of Lowndes High School, where he had been left to decompose the day after he went missing. The Federal Bureau of Investigations raided the home and college dorm of two brothers who were classmates of the victim during the time of his murder, early Tuesday morning. Though they have not been ruled official suspects, the brothers have been on the investigator’s radar from the beginning. They hope the raid revives the Johnson case by providing proof of foul play and their involvement in the murder.
Johnson’s death was originally ruled by the school board as an accident. The initial autopsy report corroborated the school’s findings and stated the victim slipped into the mat and died from “positional asphyxiation.” Due to the size of the mat vs. the size and condition of the body, an independent pathologist was hired by the family to perform a second autopsy. The second autopsy concluded that the young man actually died from “unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma.” In October 2013, U.S. Attorney Michael Moore escalated this case into a federal investigation, but the findings have yet to be shared with the public.
Images of Johnson’s swollen and beaten face are not included for viewing due to the graphic nature, but it is clearly visible in the initial investigation photos that the teen had suffered severe trauma to the face and head. Questionable blood samples were found at the crime scene on a wall near the location the mat. Local investigators concluded it was not probable to narrow down the small sample to one of the 3,000 students currently attending the high school, or any student that participated in a game there. His shoes were found inside the mat, with reported “red spots” on them. The investigators claimed they could not be blood, so were discarded from evidence files. Additionally, a gray sweater was found with blood-colored splatter across the breast, located adjacent to the mat, that was not taken in for further investigation or sample testing.
These are a few reasons the parents of the victim launched protests and requested support in bringing justice for their son. The school claimed their investigation led them to believe that Johnson leaned into the upright mat to retrieve his shoes. He then fell inside the mat where he proceeded to get stuck and became unable to remove himself. Upon the Federal investigation, the opening of the mat was found to be only 14 inches wide, and the teen’s shoulders are just over 19 inches wide, resulting in a 5-inch difference. This confirms it would not be physically possible, to accidentally fall inside the mat and become lodged. Furthermore, the teen was 5’10 in height and had he fallen in, his body would have been upright, and unable to become wedged so securely into the mat. All of these facts do not even take into consideration, that a person stuck and struggling inside a mat, in fear for their life, would knock the mat on its side making it impossible for them to die from positional asphyxiation.
A likely scenario included the victim being rolled into the center of the wrestling mat after being beaten to death in the high school gym, then placing the mat upright to temporarily conceal his body. The suspect then dropped the shoes into the top opening of the mat, justifying why they were above the lower half of his body. The obvious foul play is hoped to be proved in the revival of the Johnson case, though, the warrants were not issued due to evidence or a recent indictment, but by suspicion and innuendo. Johnson’s family has suspected Brian Bell and family were involved but attempted to cover up their crime.
Allegedly Brian Bell attacked Johnson on a school bus while returning from a sporting event, prior to the murder, reportedly unprovoked. The two boys were reportedly playfully teasing each other until Bell became aggressive and escalated the joking antics into a physical attack. The family complained that the school did nothing to investigate or protect their son with due diligence. The day after his body was found, the victim’s best friend came forward stating Bell had sent death threats on the popular social media site, Facebook, to Johnson. The best friend gave full reports to the family and investigators at that time.
FBI agent and father of Bell has been accused of helping his son cover up the murder by supporters of the Johnson family. In addition to the fight on the bus and death threats, Bell’s whereabouts during the time of death were in question. This was due to supposed updated school files regarding a departure time for a sporting event Bell was attending. The feds raided and confiscated cell phones, computers, work laptops, flash drives, phone records and other electronics from the family. It is currently unknown what prompted the raid or what the FBI is looking for.
The Johnson family has filed multiple wrongful death suits for the Bell family, the school district and the local authorities, due to the many questionable investigative protocols of this case. All said defendants are fully cooperating. However, the high school has been blamed for possibly editing the school’s surveillance footage. Originally, the FBI was told there was no record of footage during that day, upon further investigation, almost all footage for the day was located in their database. To add to the suspicions, there is about a half hour time-span, that cannot be found. The timeframe, still missing, is the estimated time of death for Johnson. The school denies the possibility of edits to the surveillance footage of the gym. Though, CNN News reports it looks to be altered after receiving a supposed unedited and uncut copy of the filming.
Until the results of the raid are in there will only be more speculations and questions for this case. Supporters are hopeful that this new step in the investigation will supply some answers. The family anxiously awaits the findings and hopes for an arrest warrant for the Bell family. Supporters are reported to be rallying around the family in love and prayers while waiting for the conclusion of the raid. The Johnson family, hopeful for peace, await the outcome of this raid, and look forward to reviving the case, due to the obvious foul play factors.
By Crystle Zamagni
Global Grind: “A Curious Case: 9 Mysterious Details About Kendrick Johnson’s Death That Will Make You Go Hmmm….”(List)
WALB.com: “Feds raid home of brothers in Kendrick Johnson investigation”
News One: “Feds Seize Emails, Phones in Kendrick Johnson’s Gym Mat Death Investigation”
First Coast News: “New developments surface in Kendrick Johnson case”
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