Through all the strides mankind has made throughout time, the most outdated of beliefs still seems to stand prominently in many areas. I speak, of course of the cancer that is racism. The belief that people should be hated simply for being different is a belief that has plagued this world since the dawn of time. It has outlived religions as well as billions of generations. We must ask ourselves, how has hate managed to fuel our world for so long? How long will it take for people to realize that love could create a much more beautiful world for future generations, if we allowed it? The case I'm covering for this post may very possibly have had a racial bias in its handling. If there was no racial bias, then the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department as a whole is just terrible and negligent at their job.
Kendrick Johnson lived with his family in Valdosta, Georgia, where he attended Lowndes County High School. Born on October 10, 1995, he was just 17-years-old at the time of his fatal, and questionable tragedy. According to True Crime Garage's coverage of this case, he was described by friends as being a quiet, sweet boy that loved football and math. A three-sport athlete, Kendrick played football, basketball, and ran track for his school. Friends said that he was the least likely person to ever cause any trouble.
His older sister, Kenyetta, sat down with documentarian, Ash Patino of AshestoAshTV. This YouTube true crime series takes a deep dive into the case and the evidence, as well as all three autopsies. To get an idea of the kind of person Kendrick was, Ash Patino sat down with his sister to find that he was just as quiet as his friends described him. He also had no girlfriend at the time of his death. Kenyetta said that she knew this for sure as she regularly checked his phone.
True Crime Garage points to reports that Kendrick's home life wasn't the best as some thought his mother wasn't involved. They rebuff that statement, saying that Jackie Johnson, Kendrick's mother, worked a full-time job. She drove a school bus for the Lowndes County School District. Also, let's face it, what teenager wants their parents involved in their lives? Most of the time pulling more than a one-word response from a teenager is much like pulling wisdom teeth. I know when I was a teenager I mostly stayed in my bedroom with the stereo turned up. It's also just a fact of life that during adolescence, your friends' houses are always better than your own. Admit it, you would've rather been at one of your friend's houses than at home as a teenager.
Kendrick, like most boys his age, had many friends and spent plenty of time at their homes. He was a very well-liked boy, as well as a very handsome one. Though he may not have had any girlfriends, Kendrick was no doubt rebuffing all kinds of offers to spend his time on school athletics, instead. He was known as a "hard-hitting safety" on his high school's football team, according to Nic of True Crime Garage. At 5'10" and right around 160 pounds, he wasn't a small boy, by far. That will become important knowledge as we continue through this mysterious case.
On Thursday, January 10, 2013, Kendrick was supposed to stay after school to watch a freshmen basketball game in the school's new gym. He did not return home that night. Quickly, his mother grew frantic. His father, Kenneth Johnson, was a truck driver out on his route that night. Somewhere between 9:30-10:00, Jackie started making trips back and forth between the family's home and Lowndes County High School to look for him. As she spoke with Kendrick's aunt, Lydia, on the phone, the two agreed that when they finally found Kendrick he was going to be in for it.
By 12:30 that morning, Jackie's worry had turned to outright panic. She called the police to report her son as missing. Initially, she was told that he was probably just out with friends or chasing a girl. While this may have been the case for many teenage boys, it was not for Kendrick. He was very responsible and always called either one of his parents or his siblings if he was going to be late. She was adamant that Kendrick was not the type to stay out late without calling. After some convincing, the police finally filed a report and started looking for him. As police officers were combing the streets, Jackie waited for word on her son with her mother by her side, praying for Kendrick's safe return.
By the time the sun rose on Friday, January 11, Jackie had decided that she was on her way to the high school to look for him again. She arrived at Lowndes County High School at around 8:30 that morning and went straight to the main office. Upon asking if anyone had seen Kendrick that morning, Jackie was ushered into a guidance counselor's office. She was left there to wait with the guidance counselor for quite some time. Actually, she was left in the office for an unreasonable amount of time as she wondered what exactly was going on. Why wasn't anyone telling her anything? Could it really take them this long to confirm whether or not Kendrick was in class? The longer Jackie was forced to wait, the more uneasy she became.
After a good deal of time had passed, Jackie began to receive text messages, asking her if she was aware of the fire trucks and ambulances in front of the school. She was told that no one was being allowed in or out. Her concerns only worsened. The only news she was getting was from outside, and it wasn't painting a pretty picture. As Jackie continued to wait, the counselor's phone began to ring. The guidance counselor solemnly listened to the voice on the other end, and Jackie could clearly hear one sentence that sank her heart into the pit of her stomach. They had found a body in the old gym. With that, the guidance counselor hung up the phone and exited the office without a word.
Now Jackie sat there alone with those horrible words hanging fresh in her mind. A body had been found in the old gym. Kendrick's high school, like many across the country, has been added onto over the years. My high school had an entire new wing that had been added on somewhere in the decade before I started. His school had a new, larger gym added on. After the new gym was added, the much smaller, old gym was used more for storage and some occasional classes. Aside from the school using it to store gym equipment, the students also used it for storage as well.
Lowndes County High School charged students a fee to use the gym lockers. Most of the teenagers didn't want to pay the locker fee, so they got creative. Instead of paying for gym lockers, they simply took their shoes, and whatever other belongings they needed stored, and tucked them underneath the gym mats stored in the old gym. Kendrick was no different, storing his gym shoes in the old gym and even sharing them with a friend. The two boys would alternate using the shoes for class and return them to the gym mats for the other to find when they next needed them. This is just another example of the kind of person Kendrick was. Always willing to help a friend.
On the morning of Friday, January 11, one of the teachers had handed out a survey for the students to take. These surveys were being passed out and taken in the old gym. Once one of the female students finished her's, she climbed up the bleachers and onto the rolled up mats that were standing, propped up against the wall. These mats have been described as wrestling mats, cheerleading mats, and tumbling mats between the two podcasts, Morbid and True Crime Garage. These mats stood nearly six feet tall and were three feet wide. The female student walked across the mats, looking down inside of them. She stopped when she saw two feet inside of one. Quickly, the girl called her friends over to see what was inside the mat as she was unsure of what she was seeing.
A scream rang out and echoed across the gym, alerting teachers. Faster than the frightened students voices could carry, the teachers came running to see what all the commotion was about. The panicked students pointed to a mat standing to the back of the bunch. The teachers worked together to start pulling down mats until they reached the one the students were referring to. When it was pulled to the ground, it hit the floor with a harder, louder thud than the previous. When it fell, Kendrick's lifeless body halfway spilled out, along with blood and vomit that was also present inside the mat. The shocking scene moved faculty to immediately clear the gym of students. The school was placed on lock down as 911 was called.
It was clearly seen by anyone that caught sight of Kendrick's body that he was deceased. As he had been hung upside-down for what would be determined as 21 hours, livor mortis had already set in his head. According to Morbid's Alaina Urquhart, podcast host and autopsy technician, livor mortis (lividity) is the pooling of blood in the body's lowest point due to gravity and the lack of circulation after death. Livor mortis becomes visible within just a couple of hours, reaching its maximum peak at 10-12 hours after death. It causes swelling, bloating, and discoloration of the skin.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office was called. The Sheriff at that time, Chris Prines, was on his way back to Valdosta with his deputy, Joe Crow, at the time the call came into dispatch. While the Sheriff was making his way straight to the scene, patrol officers and EMT's responded. One of the EMT's to arrive that morning interviewed with Ash Patino for her series on the case for AshestoAshTV. Theodis remembered the somber atmosphere as they walked into the gym. He recalled that he and his team were already nervous as they made their way to the high school. They just hoped beyond hope that a child wasn't hurt. He couldn't have prepared himself for what he was responding to that day.
He immediately noted after entering the gym that other first responders were already present, but no one was working on the boy. As he made his way closer to the mat, he could clearly see why. The Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) spent the rest of that day and most of the next assessing the scene. They didn't exactly do it properly though, as footage taken at the scene clearly shows investigators trampling the gym without protective booties over their shoes. Witnesses were interviewed while evidence was taken from inside the gym.
It didn't take much work on the part of investigators to track down a lot of their witnesses. Classes were allowed to continue throughout the rest of the day as normal. Students were kept out of the taped off old gym as authorities documented the scene. The Sheriff would use this as an excuse for not calling the coroner to the scene for six hours after their arrival. He said that he wanted to wait for the school to clear out before calling him in. County Coroner, Bill Watson would later say that he disagreed with the decision. According to protocol, the coroner is supposed to be called in immediately when a questionable death is discovered. Sheriff Prine broke protocol, stating that he had a custom of not calling until the scene was cleared of people.
Crime scene investigator, James Thornton, arrived at the scene at 10:48. He was briefed by Investigation Staff Sergeant Jack Winningham. While it's not known who identified him, he was identified as being Kendrick Johnson once EMT's freed him from the mat. By this point the school, as well as authorities, were well aware that Jackie was looking for her son. At some point, she was taken to the School Board where she gathered with her and Kendrick's large family. It was presumably known by this time that Kendrick had not reported for his third and forth classes the previous day.
Nic, of True Crime Garage, did a wonderful job describing this gym to a tee. It contained bleachers on the north and south walls, while 21 gym mats were rolled up and standing upright in the southwest corner. An inspection of the doors and windows found no signs of forced entry. A size 9 1/2 black and white Adidas shoe was found on the floor in front of a rolled up mat. A yellow folder was also found laying in front of a mat and a science book was found behind two mats near the southwest wall. A medium gray Hollister hoodie was discovered on the floor near the location of the gym mats. A pair of black, gray, and orange Nike shoes were located near the bleachers on the north wall. All of these items were bagged, tagged, and locked inside the crime scene tech's car.
Bill Watson was finally called in at 4:00, after school had let out for the day. Upon walking into the gym, he noted immediately that the scene had already been compromised. While Sheriff Prine stated that at no point did authorities touch his body before the coroner's arrival, Bill still wasn't impressed with the breach in protocol. After six hours, determining a time of death is impossible as it's not an exact science to start with. Many factors go into the determination, such as rigor mortis, body temperature, livor mortis, and degree of putrefaction, among other factors.
The coroner observed Kendrick lying on his left side, sticking out from the mat. He was rolled up inside the gym mat from his abdomen down, with his head lying in a pool of blood. Kendrick was wearing a white undershirt, an orange T-shirt, and a white T-shirt with blue jeans, boxers and white socks with gray toes. A pair of black, gray, and orange Nike shoes was found inside the mat, but not on his feet. They were instead located behind his knees. His right arm was in a position that obscured his face, while his left arm was along his body with the forearm bent towards his head. The fingers on both of his hands were found to be curled. A black cord with white earbuds attached was wrapped around his middle and index fingers on his left hand.
His face was visibly swollen after lividity had settled in his head. Blood was leaking from his eyes, nose, and mouth. Dried blood could be seen on his arms, chest, and face. His swollen eyes had blood vessels burst inside with dried blood visible around them. No evidence of blunt force trauma or puncture wounds could be found anywhere on Kendrick's body.
Alaina of Morbid: A True Crime Podcast, points to the purging of blood from Kendrick's facial orifices and explains the reason behind it. Purge fluid, as it's known, presents itself rather quickly after death. According to Wikipedia, the dark, foul liquid is pushed through the nose and mouth by gas pressure in the intestine. Due to Kendrick's position in the mat, it would also be forced through his eyes as well.
A second black and white Adidas shoe, matching the first found in front of the mats, was discovered on the concrete floor near Kendrick's head. It was found to be sitting on top of a pool of blood. An LG cell phone was found inside his left, front pocket. His parents had no idea he had a phone of his own. He normally called from other people's phones. He'd obtained it from his cousin, but how is unknown. His cousin isn't even aware of how Kendrick was able to get the phone. Teenagers always seem to find a way, though.
The mat that Kendrick was found inside measured at 74 inches in length and 34 inches in width. The end of the mat that Kendrick's feet were located in was only 14 1/2 inches wide, according to True Crime Garage's description of the scene. The end that his head was located in was 14 3/4 of an inch wide. Kendrick's shoulders are reported on both True Crime Garage and Morbid as being 19 inches wide. Dr. Anderson, who performed second and third autopsies on Kendrick's body, recorded his shoulders as being 16 inches wide. He confirms this detail with Ash Patino during his interview for AshestoAshTV, providing autopsy pictures to prove his findings.
Bloody paper towels were found in a trash can in the girls' bathroom near the old gym. They were collected and taken for testing. It was quickly found that the blood did not belong to Kendrick, but to a flag girl hurt during practice. Old, brown blood stains were also found on the south wall, about 50 feet away from the gym mats. These stains were tested and also found not to belong to Kendrick Johnson.
Immediately after Kendrick's body is discovered a female student named Jacquea Smith arrived at the Sheriff's Office. She had come in to report a suspicious-sounding Facebook post she'd seen online. It was posted by a man named Bruce Brown and said, "When you start messing with goons, bodies start showing up." According to Ash Petino's interview with Kendrick's sister, Kenyetta, Kendrick and his friends had already had previous altercations with Bruce. A friend of Kendrick's named Clemmons was reported to be having a relationship with Bruce's girlfriend, T.T. The boys started going at it with Bruce, with the angered boyfriend saying he'd kill them all one by one. The problem here is that Bruce Brown is not just another classmate, he was over 21-years-old. A grown man that had no business whatsoever feuding with teenage boys, no matter his reasoning.
Jacquea Smith wasn't the only one initially pointing her finger at Bruce. When word reached Kenyetta that her brother had been found inside the school, she immediately thought back to the feud she'd heard about. She told Ash in her interview that though she hadn't seen the Facebook post, she'd heard about it. Kenyetta wasn't going to let this stand. She and some of her friends piled into her car and paid a visit to Bruce.
At 1:25 on the afternoon of January 11, 2013, police were called to Bruce's residence to respond to a physical dispute. They arrived at 1:45 and immediately made contact with him. He told officers that he was standing on Front Street with a friend called Booger, discussing the shocking news of Kendrick's death. As they stood there talking, Kenyetta pulled up in front of them with five of her friends. The group got out and jumped Bruce right there, beating him and kicking him. One of the angered friends even pistol whipped him.
Bruce was taken into custody and questioned in relation to Kendrick's death. He cooperated fully, even waving his rights immediately. He was quickly ruled out after supplying police with a solid alibi. He had been at a friend's house with another person between 12-3pm the day Kendrick went missing. This is during the time he presumably died. Even the family no longer believes him to be involved. He was nowhere near the high school when Kendrick would've died. Furthermore, he was not a student, so he wouldn't have been permitted on school grounds.
The family waited anxiously at the School Board to identify Kendrick's body. His parents fully expected to be taken to see their son after this terrible ordeal. Instead, Sheriff Prine brought one of his shoes for Jackie to identify him by. But this was not her son. This was just a shoe she'd seen him wear as he walked out of their house, so full of life so many times before. It was just one more shattering blow for the grieving mother to have to endure that day. It would be far from the last she would take, even as she sat in that room, staring at her son's shoe.
The Sheriff would go on to state to Kendrick's family that the death was accidental. Mind you, at this point the coroner had not yet been called in. This was another point that County Coroner Bill Watson took issue with. The cause of death needs to be determined by a licensed medical examiner. Dr. Anderson points out in his interview with Ash for the AshestoAshTV series that Sheriff Prine had no PhD or medical training whatsoever. Therefore, he had no business determining Kendrick's death as accidental on his own. The biggest fumble made in this case, in my opinion, is the fact that it was treated and investigated as an accident from the start. It should've been investigated as a suspicious death until it either proved otherwise or led to a perpetrator.
CNN reported that in the EMT's initial care report they stated, "bruising noted to the right side jaw." This was written up by the personnel with the South Georgia Medical Center that were present on the scene that day. The coroner arranged for Kendrick's body to be taken to the crime lab for an autopsy. James Thornton accompanied his body when it was transported from the school. Kendrick's remains were stored in crime cooler #2 at around 5:30 that evening, 7 1/2 hours after he was initially discovered.
After several hours of investigation that morning, school superintendent Wes Taylor joined Sheriff Prines in announcing the discovery of Kendrick Johnson to the public. They stated that no evidence of foul play had been found by that point in the investigation, though an autopsy was pending. It was scheduled to be performed the following Monday at the GBI Medical Examiner's Office. While they did inform the public that the body of a 17-year-old student had been found, they did not release his name publicly until the next day.
Kendrick's father requested to identify his son's remains in person on Sunday, January 13. While they did know the shoe presented to them to be Kendrick's, they were not satisfied with identifying their son by his footwear alone. Kenneth's request was granted, but the family was not allowed to view his body until after the autopsy had been conducted. This is definitely not a normal procedure. It's fair to say that the medical examiner had no business presenting remains for identification. There were a few of things he should've gone over with Jackie and Kenneth before taking them back. Like the fact that his face would appear swollen, bloated, and discolored after the settling of lividity. Alaina of Morbid states that he also should've explained how his face would look unnatural after the autopsy, due to skin slippage and the need to peel back skin to open the skull.
Nothing was explained. Instead, the poor parents of Kendrick Johnson were led up to their son's body, completely unprepared for what they were about to see. When they approached the slab that their son was laid out on, they immediately noted the temperature in the cooler he was being stored in. It should've been cold enough to safely store frozen food in that cooler. Instead, the temperature was warm. Dr. Anderson stated in an interview with Ash for AshestoAshTV that he believes the GBI's medical examiner was actually trying to speed up the process of decomposition. County Coroner Bill Watson argued that the refrigeration unit wasn't working properly at the time. If that was the case, you would think that the GBI would have made arrangements to have Kendrick's body transported to a facility with a working unit.
The final autopsy wasn't released to the public until May 2, 2013. His cause of death was listed as positional asphyxia, or asphyxiation due to the body's position. Morbid's Alaina Urquhart explains during their coverage of this case that positional asphyxia is extremely rare in adults. This is typically only seen in infants that asphyxiate in their car seats. While she does say that his position inside the mat could cause this, there are differing results from two additional autopsies conducted on Kendrick's body by Dr. William Anderson.
GBI's autopsy stated that fluid had drained from the nose and mouth and the smell of decomposition was present. Bloating and discoloration was noted and skin slippage was visible. A Starburst wrapper was found stuck to his right elbow and a wire with earbuds attached were found with the body as well. Two tiny abrasions, both of which were less than an eighth of an inch long, were noted on his right wrist and left fourth finger. A third abrasion was found on the same finger, only 5/16 of an inch in length. Drug tests came back negative and everything seemed to be normal. No bruising was noted on the jaw in the coroner's report, as it had been in the EMT's.
The autopsy concluded that Kendrick's death was an accident. Needless to say, his parents did not agree with the ruling. They just knew that something more had happened to their son. They were determined to find out the truth. The release of Kendrick's autopsy results came at the end of a brief four-month-long investigation into his death. Sheriff Prine said that the investigation had been thorough, with authorities combing over all of the evidence as well as the CCTV footage from the high school. Hundreds of witnesses were reportedly interviewed from classmates at school to people known to be connected to Kendrick, and even those rumored to be connected to him. Sheriff Prine was more than confident in his work and the outcome of the probe.
You would think with Kendrick's final moments taking place in such a public area that security cameras would've been able to tell the entire story. Unfortunately, the cameras not only tell us nothing, it's even been debated that the footage has been tampered with. Some think that vital footage, possibly showing the murder of Kendrick Johnson, was actually removed. CCTV footage shows him walking into the old gym at approximately 1:09 on the afternoon of January 10, 2013. Kendrick walked in behind another student, who walked off in a different direction. This student was confirmed to have gone directly to class after this on-camera sighting. Kendrick walked right after entering the gym, heading towards the mats, where none of the cameras could pick him up. While no one else was inside the gym at that time, students began entering for class 15 minutes later.
This was the last sighting of Kendrick. He never left the gym that day. The class that convened after he disappeared from the camera's view played basketball. Later that evening, basketball practice would be held in the old gym as well. No one heard or saw anything out of the ordinary.
Wikipedia states that in November 2013, CNN was released 290 hours of footage from 35 cameras around the area of the gym after filing a request through the court. CNN enlisted the help of a forensic analyst to examine the security footage. Two cameras were found to be missing an hour and five minutes of footage, while another set was missing two hours and ten minutes of footage. Some apparent lapses were discovered in the footage that was found to be the result of cameras that were not synchronized with one another. Time stamps between different cameras differed as much as twenty minutes for the same time period, giving the impression of gaps in time where no gaps actually existed. Other gaps in time were found to be the result of the camera's motion-activated sensors not picking up on students moving about the school.
The folder and science book found at the scene were confirmed as being Kendrick's at some point during the police's probe. It's believed these items were sat down so he could retrieve his shoes from underneath the gym mat. Authorities surmised that he must have tried to climb down the rolled up mat head-first to reach them. Kendrick's tragic death took place just after students had arrived back to school from winter break. During the break, the gym had been cleaned and straighten up. The gym mats, that normally laid down on their sides, were now propped up against the wall. This created a problem for Kendrick as his shoes ended up at the bottom of one of the back mats. Although, a smart 17-year-old boy like Kendrick would've just knocked down mats to get his shoes and either try to put them back, or apologize later.
Jackie and Kenneth were not buying the police's version of events. Their intelligent, muscular, physically fit son would not have crawled head-first down a rolled up gym mat. First of all, he was smart enough to not do something like that. Most people agree that this is a mistake you would expect a toddler or a small child to make, but not a 17-year-old teenager. Furthermore, Kendrick was too big to fit through the opening. They believe that he was killed in that gym and placed inside that mat.
A glitch in the camera footage doesn't help matters any. This glitch led the family to believe that a cover-up was taking place. Kendrick is seen entering the gym at 1:09. Not long after, a male student seems to appear from out of thin air on camera. While it certainly looks suspicious, Nic and The Captain of True Crime Garage state that it is highly possible that the school's security system wasn't being properly maintained. The faculty wouldn't have the experience to do so on their own and they probably weren't calling anyone in regularly, if at all.
On June 15, 2013, the dissatisfied parents sought out the help of Dr. William R. Anderson for an independent autopsy. The reason for the delay between autopsies was due to false information the Johnsons had been fed by Sheriff Prine, himself. He informed the family that they would need approval from both the Sheriff's Department and the courts before Kendrick's body could be exhumed. This was complete bullshit. Dr. Anderson explained to Ash during her coverage of this case that all the family needed to do was notify the funeral director. It's unknown exactly why Sheriff Prine lied. Maybe he just didn't want a second autopsy uncovering his negligence, or something more.
It was during the second autopsy that this case grew even stranger. Dr. Anderson received Kendrick's body still inside of its casket. When he opened the body up, expecting to find the organs bagged up in formaldehyde, he found nothing at all. All of Kendrick's organs, from his eyes and brain, to his heart and lungs, were all missing. Not a single one of his organs had been returned to his body after the first autopsy. After a quick check, it was seen that the funeral home signed off that his organs and clothes were present when he was transported. Neither have ever been found. Shockingly, his body was found to have been stuffed with newspaper by the funeral home.
The funeral home that had performed Kendrick's services did so free of charge for the family. As expensive as funerals are, this was a good deed, but it would appear that some corners were cut. It's thought by some that his organs could've been destroyed at the funeral home, since they did sign off on them. They also saved some money by packing his remains with newspaper instead of gauze and cotton like all other funeral homes do today. Newspapers stopped being used to fill out bodies in funeral homes sometime in the 60s or 70s. It's fair to say that the funeral home's good deed came at a cost, and it was the cheap, subpar service they performed.
The mysterious disappearing organs didn't make Dr. Anderson's job any easier, but he was up to the task. He really wanted and needed to examine those organs, but there was nothing to be done about it. He did manage to find something that the first autopsy never did. A 23 centimeter bruise on the back of his neck led Dr. Anderson to look further into the cause of this trauma. He discovered a bleed that was present before death, leading him to his findings. He found that Kendrick had either been hit or had extreme pressure applied to the side of his neck. The bifurcation of the corroded artery was hit, causing immediate death. Kendrick wouldn't have even had time to react.
Dr. Anderson's conclusion was very different from that of Bill Watson of the GBI. Anderson's findings concluded that Kendrick had died from blunt force trauma. He also confirmed that the body had not been properly refrigerated while in the care of the GBI. Of course, neither Sheriff Prine or Bill Watson were interested in even looking at Dr. Anderson's report. They said that they were confident their offices had worked the case to the best of their ability. Still, you would think that if another medical examiner came to another conclusion, they would at least want to look over the report. Instead of at least pretending to give a damn, they just ignored the good doctor's findings and tried to put the Kendrick Johnson case in the past.
According to Wikipedia, they had no such luck as the Johnsons hired attorney Benjamin Crump to represent them after the second autopsy's findings were released. They planned to fight as hard as they could for their son. On October 31, 2013, US Attorney Michael J. Moore announced that his office would be conducting a formal review into Kendrick's death.
The Johnsons then filed a legal action to open a coroner's inquest into his death. The judge delayed the decision to open an inquest due to the pending outcome of the US Attorney's review. This moved the family to demand that the Georgia governor immediately authorize the inquiry. The Johnson family gathered together with the NAACP and other activist groups to rally at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. The governor's answer parroted that of the judge, saying he, too would await the findings of the US Attorney's Office.
The US Attorney's Office eventually came to the same conclusion as the Sheriff's Department. They ruled that Kendrick's death was a tragic accident. I'm sure this came as a hard blow to the family fighting so hard for justice. On July 28, 2014, the family filed a wrongful death suit against the superintendent of Lowndes County High School, the principal, and the Board of Education. The suit specifically stated that a student named Brandon Bell, that had attended school with Kendrick, had attacked him before. It was stated that Kendrick had been bullied by Brandon, with Jackie attempting to bring the issue to the attention of the school. Nothing had been done.
Brandon Bell was a wrestler at the high school that Kendrick attended. He had a younger brother named Brian Bell that played football with Kendrick. The boys' father was an FBI agent at the time of Kendrick's death. I have only found accounts and reports of one physical altercation between Kendrick and Brian, taking place 18 months before his death. While many, such as True Crime Garage and Morbid, have reported the fight erupted from a series of Yo Momma jokes gone awry, Ash Petino found the real reason behind the scuffle in her YouTube series.
While on a long trip to an out-of-town football game, Brian felt the need to pee. With nowhere to stop, he was told to use a Gatorade bottle to relieve himself. While he stood in the back of the bus, trying to empty his full bladder, Kendrick decided to play a harmless little joke. He started jostling Brian as he urinated into the bottle, causing some to splash onto him. Brian got angry and swung on Kendrick. Kendrick, defending himself, swung back. The fight was broken up there and then, with the boys being separated until they reached the ball game. Once there, neither boy was allowed to play in the game and both were sent home from the stadium.
Here is where some, including the family, have had a problem with the way the issue was handled. As Brian's mother was already present at the stadium when the bus full of football players arrived, he was released to his mother and sent home. It's claimed that attempts were made to reach Kendrick's family since none of his relatives could be found at the game. When his mother could not be reached, arrangements started being made to get Kendrick back to the school safely. Seeing this, Deputy Shirley Demps, safety officer for Lowndes County High School, stepped in to help. She knew Kendrick and his family and wanted to make sure the boy got home safely since his mother couldn't be reached. She offered him a ride in her patrol car, where he sat in the front seat and even played with radio on the ride back.
Kenyetta recalled the day that she and her mother arrived at the high school to find Kendrick climbing out of a police car in her interview with Ash. She remembers that Jackie was much more upset about Kendrick's ride than he was. This is perfectly reasonable as this was the first moment that Jackie had learned of the fight between Kendrick and Brian on the bus. Upon hearing that Brian was sent home with his mother, while Kendrick rode back to school in a police car, she became reasonably upset. It's been stated since that this was in no way a punishment. Simply a safe way to quickly get Kendrick home with a person known to him and his family. The only reason Brian went home with his mother was because she was conveniently already at the game when the boys arrived.
In a later interview, Brian would claim to have been friends with Kendrick, aside from playing sports with him. According to the Johnson family, they never knew Brian Bell to ever hang out with Kendrick or his group of friends. Some think that this points to Brian's guilt, but he would hardly be the first to claim friendship with someone whose death made headlines.
Regardless of their friendship status, after the altercation on the bus that day there was no bad blood between the two boys. Classmates of theirs indicated that there was no animosity between them in their reports with police. However, many have been suspicious of Brian Bell over the years. The multiple accounts of people coming forward to say they've heard confessions, even from Brandon, haven't helped suspicions to die down, either. The Bell home was even raided by the Department of Justice during the US Attorney's investigation. To date, no evidence has been uncovered to implicate Brian or Brandon Bell in Kendrick's death.
Brandon was completely ruled out as having anything to do with the mysterious death as he was nowhere near the school at the time Kendrick died. He was away with the wrestling team for a match that day. At the time Kendrick was last seen on camera, Brandon was on a bus heading towards his wrestling match. Witness testimony, hotel check-in times, and weigh-in data all confirmed this.
Brian was at school that day. Camera footage shown in the James Pollock documentary, Finding Kendrick, shows the two walking down the same corridor that fateful day. Brian would later say that he never saw Kendrick on January 10. While the footage does show that two went to school together that day, it doesn't show them talking, or even acknowledging one another. It was as though they were completely unaware of each other's presence in the corridor. They never even looked in the direction of the other.
Kendrick's body would be exhumed for a second time on June 22, 2018. This was simply to reexamine an area from the previous autopsy that Dr. Anderson was unclear about. His findings were exactly the same the second time around. Kendrick Johnson died of blunt force trauma. Still, he could not get the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department or the County Coroner to even look at his results. He has instead been dismissed as a hack, even though he has not a single blemish anywhere on his long career, even working on high profile cases.
While watching the AshestoAshTV series dedicated to Kendrick's case, I was intrigued when she ran across some confessions talked about on another YouTube series. Noor Jasmine discusses true crime and conspiracies on her channel, wearing a tin foil hat as a cute gimmick for the conspiracy side of her show. In one of her videos she talks about two men that came forward with information that tied Brian Bell directly to the strange, suspicious death. Both of these men would be arrested, while one went on to serve time in jail. She's wondering if maybe it had something to do with the men being too free with the information they held.
The first of these to come was on Friday, July, 18, 2013. Dalton Chauncey came forward with information he said he heard at a party. He told police that while at a party with a friend, he heard two boys whose last names he did not know confess to Kendrick's murder. Attempts to identify the boys on the little information given were fruitless. Dalton was confronted with the inconsistencies in his story and the fact that the conversation couldn't be verified by anyone on July 23. He broke down and admitted to fabricating the whole story at a friend's house to brag. His mother claimed that afterward the Sheriff's Department just kept at Dalton over his statement that Kendrick had been murdered by two classmates over a girl. She described his false statement as "sarcastic."
Dalton was arrested for making false statements to police. He was even visited by the FBI and took a polygraph in Atlanta. He was slapped with a fine and probation for his false statement. He paid his fine, served his probation, and moved on with his life afterward.
A viewer of AshestoAshTV emailed the documentarian with a screenshot of messages between he and Dalton Chauncey. The anonymous viewer asked Dalton outright about the statement he made all those years ago. He confirmed the validity of his statement, saying that it only served to screw him over. He also confirmed his charge and punishment for the statement. Dalton wrote that the statement he made, although he claims it to be true, only made his life difficult. He can't get a job anywhere he goes because of it. Though he tells this anonymous viewer that the statement he made years ago was true, he quite obviously wishes now that he'd never made it given the way he speaks about his experience afterward.
Four years later, another man would come forward with a statement so compelling that you can't help but to wonder. This statement seems to have an answer for every strange aspect of the case. Considering that it came from a resident of Jacksonville, Florida rather than Valdosta, Georgia, it makes one wonder all the more. Granted, Kendrick's case spread to national news, it's still strange that someone residing so far from Valdosta would have so much information covering so much of the case. I know many people that are not into true crime at all, and those people do not look at cases that aren't local to their own area.
Ryan Anthony Domek-Hernandez came forward to police in 2017, after hearing a story that disturbed him from his friend, Brandon Bell. At this time Ryan was over 21 years of age and had met and befriended Brandon after he moved from Valdosta in April 2016. During a visit to Brandon's apartment, he listened to his friend confess that his younger brother had killed Kendrick over a girl. In Ryan's statement, he wrote that Brandon disclosed an argument that broke out between Kendrick and Brian in the school's old gym. Brian's friend, Ryan Hall, was allegedly there to witness the crime. Ryan claims he was told that Brian was suffering from "roid rage," a side effect of steroids, when he struck Kendrick in the neck with a 45 pound weight, or dumbbell. When Ash asked Dr. Anderson if this injury would be consistent with his findings, he said yes.
According to Ryan's statement to police, Brian thought that he broke Kendrick's neck with the blow. He then threatened his friend into staying quiet and helping him cover up his crime. It was alleged that Ryan Hall was threatened with the Bells' father, an FBI agent. The claim is that if Ryan Hall refused to help and stay quiet, their father would frame him for the murder.
It's alleged that the Bells' father was contacted after the murder. In Ryan Anthony's story, he says that the boys' father then contacted Sheriff Prine, who then got in touch with the County Coroner. Ryan wrote that the Bells' father got in touch with another agent from the FBI to facilitate the editing of the school's surveillance video. He goes even further to explain in his statement that 1 hour and 25 minutes of footage was cut from the original recording. It was also claimed that Kendrick's organs had been removed and destroyed in order to interfere with any attempts to determine a correct time or cause of death. Apparently, Brandon had also told his new friend in Florida that Kendrick's autopsy had been falsely documented as well.
While Ryan Anthony's statement certainly does cover all of the bases, it has not been deemed as credible. As a matter of fact, Ryan Anthony would go on to serve time in jail for trespassing. He was not deemed as eligible for bail. The reason for this is unknown. While Noor Jasmine points to this as being some sort of conspiracy to silence him, he could easily be denied bail for such a small offense if he'd repeatedly trespassed on the same property. As far as an opinion on the validity of his statement, I'll leave that to the reader.
There was one more person to come forward with a story. Early in the investigation, police received an email from a female student at Lowndes County High School. This girl claimed to have overheard a confession at a party. She gave full details of the confession she heard and named four students. All four were looked at, spoken with, and quickly ruled out. She claimed to have heard that Kendrick had slept with another boy's girlfriend, angering him. Apparently he threatened to meet Kendrick in the old gym with his knife. When he showed up, this girl claimed that four boys jumped him.
She stated in her email that one of the boys had been heard admitting to the crime several times. Apparently, the boy's brother would even admit to having knowledge he wasn't able to keep secret anymore at a 4th of July party. This would be the setting in which the female student overheard the confession she claims to have heard. All four students were cleared of any wrong doing very quickly. There was no way any of them could've committed the crime.
In January 2015, the Johnsons filed a $100 million civil lawsuit against 38 individuals. Respondents included three of Kendrick's classmates, several sheriff's deputies, the state medical examiner, the city of Valdosta, the GBI and five of it's agents, one FBI agent, local, state, and federal officials, the superintendent of Lowndes County, the Valdosta-Lowndes crime lab, and the police chief of Valdosta. Their suit quite clearly named the Bell brothers and their father, as it alleged that the FBI agent named had ordered his sons to attack Kendrick. It also alleges that Mr. Bell enlisted the help of the others named in the suit to help cover up the crime.
Lowndes County Attorney Jim Elliot called the allegations "baseless" and "unfounded." Citing close proximity to the accused, all of the local Superior Court judges recused themselves from overseeing the case. This made it impossible for the case to be filed and heard in Lowndes County. It seemed that the family was right back where they'd started, just trying to be heard in the first place.
The Department of Justice concluded their investigation and announced that they would not be filing any criminal charges in relation to Kendrick's death on June 20, 2016. This came after what was called an extensive investigation. Seeing as how two US Attorneys resigned in the midst of the investigation, the second shortly after receiving it, you really have to wonder how organized an investigation it was.
It seemed that the Johnson family could not catch a break anywhere they turned. One of the hardest blows they faced was on August 10, 2017. Judge Richard Porter ruled that the Johnson family and their attorney would pay more than $292,000 in legal fees to the many respondents of their civil suit. According to Wikipedia, Porter wrote, "testimony shows that they had no evidence to support their claims that the [brothers] killed Johnson or that any of the other defendants engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the cause or manner of Johnson's death."
For years nothing happened. Jackie sat out on a street corner almost every day, wearing a T-shirt with a picture of her son's face after his autopsy printed on the front. Some people would honk their horns at her aggressively. Some showed even less class, yelling obscenities at her and telling her to get a job. She wasn't always alone in her nearly daily crusade to bring awareness to Kendrick's case. A lot of times her family members would join her. Jackie was even known to sit outside in blistering heat while her blood sugar was too low to endure such conditions. Her resolve is a true testament to a mother's undying, unconditional love for her child.
On June 6, 2020, Kim Kardashian tweeted a petition to reopen Kendrick's case. It gained a lot of attention and many signatures. Her good deed became a driving force that reopened the case, as it had been intended to do. Kendrick's family remained realistic about the reopening of his case, though. They figured the new sheriff in town, Ashley Paulk, would only investigate for a few weeks to satisfy the public and close the case as an accident again.
Sheriff Paulk officially reopened the case on March 10, 2021. He didn't exceed the family's expectations at all. After what he called a thorough and complete investigation, the case was closed within only a few weeks of its reopening. The findings of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office were just the same as they'd been in 2013. They ruled that Kendrick had died of a tragic accident and positional asphyxia was the cause of his death. By this point, his family wasn't even surprised by the treatment his case had received.
Since the closing of the second investigation, Sheriff Paulk has offered a $500,000 reward for information that could bring an assailant to justice. His offer came after the family had outright called him a liar. They do not feel that he made every effort possible to properly investigate the case. Sheriff Paulk's offered reward comes from directly out of his own pocket and he urges anyone, including the Johnson family, to add to it if they wish. When asked by Ash in an interview for AshestoAshTV, he stated that he simply put up the reward to show his confidence in his ruling. If anyone can prove him wrong, he'll give them half a million dollars.
In his interview, Sheriff Paulk explains that his ability to fund such a staggering reward comes from a good deal of hard work and good fortune in his life. Paulk started an electrical contracting firm that is now owned and operated by his son. He also started a farming operation that is now run by another of his sons. Sheriff Paulk is currently serving his second term as Sheriff in Lowndes County.
Paulk addressed rumors and threats of a RICO investigation being launched against him. Wikipedia defines the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) as a US federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. Paulk laughed these threats off in his interview for AshestoAshTV, saying he has never been involved in any type of organized crime. He feels he has nothing at all to worry about.
The death of Kendrick Johnson is most definitely the biggest mystery of all time. The most devastating part of all is that had his case been handled properly and protocol not been broken so horribly, we might have all the answers to these questions today. While it can't be definitively proved that racial bias played a part here, it does look that way when you examine the facts. Whether it did or not, it doesn't look good. As I said at the top of the story, if there was no racial bias then the department was just purely inept. Whether this was an accident or murder, I'll let you decide that for yourself.
For a much deeper dive into this case, I urge you to check out AshestoAshTV on YouTube. Her coverage of this case is thorough and amazing. She does a great job of examining all sides of the story, interviewing people from every side to gain every perspective.