Georgia teenager was stuffed with newspaper after his death, family lawyer says

The mysterious death of a Georgia teenager has taken a bizarre turn when an autopsy of his exhumed remains revealed that his internal organs were missing and his body was stuffed with newspaper.

The family of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson of Valdosta, Georgia, is “outraged” and “devastated” by the discovery and believes his death was a murder covered up, a lawyer representing them said Thursday.

Johnson, a three-sport athlete, was found dead on a rolled-up wrestling mat in his high school gym on Jan. 11. Medical examiners concluded he accidentally suffocated while trying to save a sneaker.

However, his parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, doubted this conclusion.

“It didn’t make sense,” Kenneth Johnson told MSNBC’s Tamron Hall on Thursday.

“We know what Kendrick is like,” added Jacquelyn Johnson. “We know he would never have crawled into a mat.”

In June, they obtained a court order to exhume Kendrick's body for a second autopsy.

What the private pathologist who performed the second autopsy found was shocking. The results were available in September.

“There were no organs in there,” said Benjamin Crump, co-counsel for Kendrick's family. “He [also] concluded that it was a homicide and that he died from blunt force trauma.”

The autopsy revealed that Kendrick suffered a hemorrhage on the right side of his neck.

After the teenager's death, organs from his torso to his skull were removed and replaced with newspaper, Crump said, which left his parents terribly worried.

“They thought they had returned their entire son. In fact, only half of their son was returned to them,” he said.

All of his clothes were also missing.

“It is very hard for us as parents to have to go through this ordeal,” said Kenneth Johnson.

Kendrick's body was in three locations after his death: in the possession of the local sheriff at the time of the crime, at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the initial autopsy in January, and at the Harrington Funeral Home in Valdosta, which performed the embalming and burial, Crump said.

The Harrington Funeral Home and the Valdosta Sheriff did not respond to NBC News' request for comment.

Sherry Lang, director of public affairs for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said, “We stand behind our medical examiner and his autopsy report in this case. We returned the organs with the body to the funeral home. That is our policy and our practice with every single autopsy we perform.”

On Thursday, Kendrick's parents announced they planned to take legal action against government officials who may have been involved in covering up their son's murder.

“The fact that his organs are missing is an insult on top of the misfortune,” Crump said. “They are outraged. They have been outraged for nine months.”

He added that the death of the track, basketball and football star, whom he described as a “good boy,” had left the family “devastated.”

Family and friends of Kendrick Johnson and activists protest outside Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia in May.WBAL

“It was heartbreaking,” Jacquelyn Johnson told MSNBC.

The family's lawyer, CB King, told MSNBC that he is trying to release all surveillance footage from the gym where Kendrick died – a footage the school has so far refused to grant him.

“We know there are at least four video cameras, one of which is pointed directly at the location of the mat where his body was found,” King said. “What does this video show? We can't help but think it's the clearest evidence we have of whether or not the sheriff's theory is correct. It would show him walking onto the mat, or if it doesn't show that, it would show how his body ended up in the gym the next morning.”

Lowndes County High School declined comment.

King said a U.S. attorney is reviewing Kendrick's file and considering opening an investigation into his case.

Crump said Kendrick's parents believe the cover-up is limited to their son, but want to know why it happened.

“Many people in the community believe they know who did this [the murder]he said. “The question is why it was covered up. Right now we believe the truth is right under our noses and will come out. This crime mystery will be solved.”

He declined to comment on who the family believes is responsible for the death.