Jacquelyn Johnson does not believe the official report about the death of her son, Kendrick Johnson, 17, the Valdosta teen whose dead body was found in a gym mat at his high school in 2013. She and her husband and family have stayed the course to find out what truly happened to their child, protesting outside of the Valdosta courthouse and keeping the story in the media as much as possible.
According to official reports, Kendrick went to retrieve the shoes he’d left in a rolled-up mat, something kids at his high school often did. The mats, six feet tall and three feet wide were large enough that it is believed that Kendrick fell in and suffocated when he couldn’t then get out. A coroner’s autopsy said Kendrick died by suffocation, but an independent autopsy revealed his death was caused by blunt force trauma.
To add in other mysterious elements to the case, Valdosta authorities said Johnson’s organs, including his brain, were “destroyed by natural process” and were not given to the funeral home. In addition, surveillance video of the gym was missing 3 hours and 15 minutes of footage though its unclear if that would have shown any footage relevant to the case.
An Ebony magazine story identified two potential suspects in the case, one the son of an FBI agent. The family is suing the magazine for defamation although the teens weren’t specifically named. Does Johnson believe that she knows what happened to her son? She says she just wants answers that make sense.
“I’m holding up because I have to stand up for justice for my son. As a parent we know how our children are. I think that the evidence they gave us didn’t make any sense,” Johnson said. “It’s in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice so that’s what we’re trying to find out.”
Johnson’s organs – from his brain to his pelvis went missing as did his clothing, Johnson said. The family did at one point block the entrance to the Valdosta courthouse, and was arrested, something that Johnson said she would do again.
“My child was killed at school of all places and nothing was being done about it, so we decided to public public pressure on them. We did block the courthouse and we didn’t let anyone in or anyone out.”
The family, who is currently suing 38 people for $100 million including several local officials. They plan a graduation ceremony for Johnson, who would have graduated in May, although they have been banned from the high school grounds.
“We want to give him a proper graduation,” says Johnson. “Although he won’t be there, he’ll be there.”
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