Kendrick Johnson with his mother and father, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson (The Johnson family)

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said the lengthy investigation into the death of a high school wrestler nine years ago concluded it was an accident and there was no foul play.

Paulk released a summary of the case file of the death of 17-year-old Lowndes County High School student Kendrick Johnson. The teen’s body was found in an upright wrestling mat in January 2013. The case was reopened in March 2021.

The investigative summary states that classmates found Johnson. A trainer found he was dead and contacted emergency services.

Investigators concluded that he died in a freak accident. Johnson’s parents said classmates killed their son and law enforcement and school officials covered up the crime.

Evidence in the Kendrick Johnson death investigation

In 2013, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation ruled that Johnson’s death was an accident, noting that the cause of death was asphyxiation. Three years later, federal officials closed the case.

“I find it disturbing and unethical that this investigation seemed to devolve into a ‘witch hunt’ after the FBI told the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia that they had found nothing criminal and they are closing the case as a result would.” Paulk’s statement said.

Investigators learned that, according to Paulk’s summary, wrestlers would occasionally store shoes in wrestling mats. Pictures in the investigation file show Johnson apparently reaching into a mat to get shoes. His body was found head down with feet visible from the top of the mat.

Investigators at the scene when Johnson’s body was discovered and a submission from the Valdosta-Lowndes County Crime Laboratory found no evidence of blunt force trauma or foul play. The crime lab submission found “signs of skin slippage on Johnsons (Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office / FOX 5 Atlanta)

Investigators at the scene when Johnson’s body was discovered and a submission from the Valdosta-Lowndes County Crime Laboratory found no evidence of blunt force trauma or foul play. The crime lab submission found “signs of skin slippage on Johnson’s abdominal area, face and arm.”

Cameras saw Johnson “walking at a fast pace” near the exercise mat area at 1:27 p.m. on January 10, 2013. That was the last time Johnson was seen alive.

Beware of a cover-up

Paulk dismissed the idea of ​​a cover-up, saying “it would be impossible to construct any evidence” because multiple local, state, and federal agencies were involved.

Kendrick Johnson’s mother Jackie Johnson said she wanted justice for her son.

“Nobody really cares. Nobody wants justice for Kendrick. It’s like silencing this family and sending them on their way, but what they haven’t realized is that the Johnson family is going nowhere,” said Jackie Johnson.

Rumors surrounding the death of Kendrick Johnson

Paulk dispelled some alleged rumors of tension between Johnson and a classmate. The two allegedly got into an altercation on a bus ride before a football game in 2011 and both were told they couldn’t take the bus home.

“Testimonies from other students said that this fight did not appear to provoke animosity between the two; in fact, they later did a class project together,” Paulk said.

The FBI also found that there was no probative basis for a rumor that the same classmate was angry with Johnson over a relationship he had with another classmate.

“The FBI states in two separate documents that there is no basis or evidence to support this rumor,” Paulk said.

Ethics in the Kendrick Johnson Death Inquiry

In the summary, Paulk drew attention to the “witch hunt” that caused the FBI to report to the US Department of Justice that it had found no evidence of criminal activity.

“I’m pretty sure there will still be a contingent who believe in foul play,” Paulk says in the document. “I encourage everyone to study ALL the evidence in this file before forming an opinion.”

Paulk highlights several instances of “blatant coercion and intimidation” following the initial conclusion of the investigation.

Paulk notes that a person was offered a “financial incentive” while testifying and a text message in evidence instructs the person to lie when testifying.

Paulk says that a woman who works with the DOJ and a coroner who performs autopsies “appears to have developed a close relationship in which they address their correspondence by their first names.” One email contains a statement from the woman to one male colleague, which reportedly states, “I had to make him feel like a man so he would be open to conversation.”

After that meeting, an amended report said the cause and manner of death were undetermined.

Documentary “Finding Kendrick Johnson”.

The case drew national attention and was the subject of a documentary entitled Finding Kendrick Johnson.

The documentary, which was released in 2021, examines the case from the perspective of Johnson’s parents.