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What Happened to Kendrick Johnson?

by CM 8 months ago in investigation · updated 4 months ago
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He was found rolled up in a gym mat in 2013

Update January 2022 from WFLA: VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheriff who last year reopened an investigation into the 2013 death of a teenager found inside a rolled-up gym mat at school concluded there was no evidence of foul play after reviewing voluminous evidence collected by federal investigators.

The Kendrick Johnson case is one of the few cases that really hurt my heart. It’s also one of the first cases that started my love for true crime, from a different perspective. I’ve spent many hours researching information regarding this case and my heart of heart says that he was murdered, be it accidental. The many “coincidences” involved in this case also thwart my opinion, making it difficult to believe anything the state of Georgia offers about this case. With that said, I’ve done my very best to provide a neutral version of the story here.


On January 10, 2013, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, a student athlete at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia, walked into what was known as the “old gym” to retrieve a sneaker he’d hidden in the gym mats. Students often hid sneakers here rather than rent a locker.

Surveillance showed Kendrick walk in the gym at 1:09 p.m. He never walked out. What really happened that day in the gym will likely never be known for certain. We can only speculate. What we do know is that Kendrick’s body was found rolled up in the gym mat the following day.

Students walked in and out of the gym that day, none of them seeing Kendrick. He did not attend classes the remainder of the day. A color guard practice took place in the gym that evening. No one saw Kenrick or suspected that the basketball player was rolled in the mat nearby them.

Kendrick’s mother, Jacqueline Johnson, reported her son missing about 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 11. Kenneth, his father, was out of town at the time of the incident. With no information, Jacqueline headed to the school, the last place Kendrick was known to have been.

Around 8:30 in the morning, Jacqueline met with officials at the school. They printed missing flyers for Kendrick. Around 10:30 a.m., Mrs. Johnson noticed chaos around the school. She then overheard children talking; they found a dead body in the gym.

Police, investigators, and the county coroner, Bill Watson, visited the school in the hours that followed, though Watson was the last person notified. He arrived on the scene hours after the body was found.

A Corrupted Scene

Watson was unhappy when he arrived at the disheveled scene. Students at the school noticed a shoe sticking out of the mat and had attempted to pull out Kendrick’s body before notifying the gym teacher.

He noticed officers were not processing the scene correctly; thus contaminating the scene. Many authorities were not wearing foot coverings and no one bothered to collect or bag evidence. Johnson’s body had now been lying in a decomposing state for hours without an examination.

The gym smelled of death. Johnson’s body was in the back corner of the gym, hanging halfway out of the mat. His face was bruised and swollen and coerced in vomit. He’d been dead for nearly 24-hours by this time.

Foul Play Not Suspected

Sheriff Chris Pine announced that “foul play is not suspected” later that evening, a determination Watson says was made prematurely, considering the disturbing scene that greeted them at the school.

Mr. Johnson commented about the temperature in the drawer where his son’s body was stored when he identified the body at the Valdosta Crime Lab. he later stated that warm air poured from the “refrigerated unit.” Valdosta Crime Lab director Barry Funck, adamantly refuted Mr. Johnson’s claims, assuring the public everybody that comes through is kept at the appropriate temperature. He further stated that alarms ring if the temperature in one of the units becomes too high.

His body was then transported to medical Examiner Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft to perform an autopsy. Kendrick arrived naked, without any belongings except a pair of headphones clutched tightly in his hand. No one knew where his clothes had gone.

After the completion of the autopsy, Kendrick was transported to a funeral home that had offered the family a free service.

Police Ask School for Surveillance Footage

Police did not retrieve surveillance footage. Instead, they instilled and trusted this job to school employees who could have potentially been involved with a crime. Surveillance footage from the school came in five days later, mysteriously, missing valuable footage later attributed to a lapse in the motion activation feature.

KJ Walking to the Gym

That satisfied the police since the video showed no evidence of a crime.

Autopsy Rules Death Accidental

On May 2, 2013, the autopsy results were released, ruling Johnson’s death was caused by “accidental positional asphyxia” after becoming stuck in an upside-down position in the mat.

First Autopsy State of Georgia

The ruling made sense, since the pressure on his chest would have muffled any noise he made. What I find strange is their account of how this athletic, 5’11” tall athlete managed to get into this position.

Family Hire Attorney Ben Crump

Attorney Ben Crump Photo: NBC News

Dissatisfied with the results of the autopsy, the Johnson family hired attorney Benjamin Crump to take the case. Crump felt the case was worth investigating since Valdosta had a long history of racial discrimination, lynchings, and intolerance.

The Johnson’s thought one of Kendrick’s autopsy photos proved that he had been beaten to death. The photo, showing his face swollen and disfigured, floats around the internet today. However, this photo was taken many hours after he died after the medical examiner pulled back his skin for an autopsy.

Second & Third Autopsy

A second autopsy paid for by the Johnson family came back with very different results than the state autopsy reports. This time, the ruling was homicide; Kendrick died from a heart attack caused by blunt force trauma to the carotid artery near the back of his neck, said M.E. William Anderson. He also told the shocked family that all of Kendrick’s organs had been removed from his body and stuffed with newspapers.

Second Autopsy

The funeral home director, Antionio Harrington, denied knowledge of the location of the missing organs, claiming the M.E. must have thrown them away. The GBI denied the allegation. Harrington later admitted that they threw Kendrick’s organs away because they were too badly decomposed. The newspaper stuffing, while insensitive, is common practice at some funeral homes.

A third autopsy provided the same ruling: Kendrick died by homicide caused from blunt force trauma.

Third Autopsy Report

Bell Brothers Accused of Murder

The Bell brothers, two boys who had previously had altercations with Kendrick, were commanded by their father, FBI agent Rick Bell, to remain quiet about the case. Brian Bell and Kendrick were football teammates. One day while on a bus, the two fought over what some speculate was a comment made about KJ having sexual intercourse with their sister.

Suspicons of the Bell brother's involvement in the case began soon after the second autopsy. A teacher confirmed that Brian was in class at the time of the murder. The other brother was seen on the other side of the school building at the same time Kendrick entered the gym. (Kendrick could’ve been murdered well after the 1:30 time he walked into the gym.) Later in the day, Branden Bell was on a school bus headed to a wrestling meet, according to Wrestling Coach Spencer Graybeal and several students.

Man Makes up Story

Dalton Ray Chauncey, a 20-year-old man, told police he overheard a conversation between two students telling a story of a third person who killed Kendrick. Police could not locate the student and Dalton changed his story, saying he made it up for attention.

Uncertainties in the Case

A shoe found near Kendrick’s body found with red spots on it was believed to be blood but tests confirmed the stain to be paint. Kendrick had gone into the mat to retrieve shoes that he left inside the gym mat, they say. Reaching inside the mat to get the shoe, Kendrick got stuck in the mat and then died. Blood and fluids leaked from the body. Mysteriously, this shoe did not accumulate any blood, as if it had later been placed there.

If Kendrick became stuck in a mat, struggling to breathe, would he really clutch onto his headphones? If he did struggle but could not release the headphones, why did no one in the gym that day hear or notice something?

Other things that I find disturbing about the case include:

  • Length of KJ's arm
  • Width of his shoulders

Click here to read what this blogger from Penn State had to say about the case.

Johnson Family Treated Poorly

Since the day Kendrick died, the Valdosta school district has treated the Johnson family terribly, even denying admission to the prom to KJ’s sister due to their accusations against the county.

More Information & Resources:,books,audiobooks,articles,documents,sheet_music,podcasts&language=1,books,documents,podcasts&language=1


About the author


The most shocking & unbelievable collection of crime stories around. Prepare yourself for crimes that will piss you off. Graphic material! 18+ audience!

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