LOWNDES COUNTY, Ga. — The investigation into the death of a teenager whose body was found inside a rolled-up gym mat at a Georgia high school and whose death was ruled accidental is closed, the Georgia Bureau Investigation said in a post to its Twitter page Thursday.
"The GBI has received numerous inquiries from the public about our involvement in the 2013 Kendrick Johnson death investigation," the agency tweeted. "This case was investigated by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and the Department of Justice. Our agency assisted the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office in the case by processing the scene. Our Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy on Johnson. This investigation is closed. All GBI documents pertaining to the case are available upon request through GBI's Open Records Unit."
Johnson's family requested the federal investigation into his death be reopened in October 2019, on what would have been his 24th birthday. At that time, the family's attorney told reporters the state investigation was being reopened because "we can't act like this young man's organs went missing legally."
According to the GBI, that did not happen.
Johnson's body was found in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, about 120 miles northwest of Jacksonville.
Investigators said the initial autopsy found Johnson's cause of death was accidental asphyxiation when he got stuck in the mat while trying to retrieve a shoe. Johnson’s family believes he was murdered by schoolmates, and have had two subsequent autopsies conducted, both of which showed blunt force trauma as the cause of death.
Johnson's body was exhumed in 2018 for the third autopsy. The findings showed the cause of death was "apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma." It also showed some of Johnson's organs were missing.
Johnson family representatives said when the case was closed in 2016, the family met with federal investigators to present the findings of the case. That meeting was carried out without legal representation from the family, representatives said.
An attorney for the family said they believe the investigation was closed under suspicious circumstances fueled by pressure of retired FBI agents. Johnson's parents were persuaded to meet with two U.S. Attorney offices and the Department of Justice without legal representation, the attorney said.
Johnson's family refiled a lawsuit over his death in May 2019, contending that their son's clothes and organs, including his brain, were disposed of to interfere with the investigation into the teen's death.
The family's attorney said after the first autopsy that took place in the GBI lab, the organs were placed in a bag and placed back into Johnson's body when it left the lab. He said more people finding their loved ones dead with their organs missing is a human rights issue.