Valdosta Daily Times

November 22, 2013

Finding Kendrick

Adam Floyd
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Times reviews the morning of Jan. 11, the day when Kendrick Johnson's body was discovered

The Times continues its in-depth look at the investigative case file into the January death of Kendrick Johnson at Lowndes High School. In this report, The Times details what happened on the morning of Jan. 11, in the hours after Kendrick's family had filed a missing person report on their son to Lowndes County and state law-enforcement agencies' investigation into his death.

This is the second part of an ongoing review of videotapes and files which led law-enforcement to declare the death an accident. These files were released in the court order requested by the Johnson family, which believes that Kendrick's death was the result of foul play.

The Times' summaries form a narrative following the investigation into Kendrick’s death and are the result of hours of research reviewing the case file, scene and autopsy photographs and surveillance footage.

The Morning

Jacquelyn Johnson was already at Lowndes High School on the morning of Jan. 11, the day her 17-year-old son’s body was found in the school’s old gym, according to Kendrick Johnson’s investigative case file. When she arrived, school personnel had been trying since 7:45 a.m. to locate Kendrick after Lowndes County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Adams, one of the school’s resource officers, received the missing persons report that Jacqueline had made at 12:30 a.m. that morning.

Arabi Hall works in the administration office, and she called Kendrick’s first block teacher, Bobby Wilson, and confirmed that he was not in his first block class that morning. Hall was printing color pictures of the missing student when she was told that Jacquelyn was at the school and wanted to speak with her about Kendrick.

Jacquelyn and her daughter told Hall that Kendrick did not have any girlfriends and gave her the name of his best friend.

After discovering that Kendrick’s best friend had been suspended, a deputy was dispatched to his residence. Meanwhile, Jacquelyn went to the guidance office to speak with Dana Hutchinson, the guidance counselor assigned to her children.

She met with Hutchinson at approximately 8:45 a.m. to discuss her daughter’s Georgia High School Graduation Test.

In the case file, Hutchinson states that she left Jacquelyn Johnson, her daughter and a small boy who was with them in her office while she retrieved study materials from a classroom. When she returned about 10 minutes later and explained all of the paperwork, the daughter stood up and walked out of the office.

Hutchinson said that Kendrick’s mother then asked if report cards went out the day before and if she could have one printed for her. While the report card was printing, Jacquelyn Johnson told Hutchinson that Kendrick had not come home the previous night.

Hutchinson looked at attendance records and found that he had been marked absent during fourth block the previous day, Jan. 10. She called a few students from Kendrick’s classes and Krista Royal, Kendrick’s third block teacher, to her office to ask if Kendrick was present in his first three classes on Jan. 10. Each said he had been present.

Vikings Head Football Coach Randy MacPherson confirmed to Hutchinson that Kendrick was not present during fourth block weight training on Jan. 10. Jacquelyn said it was unlike her son to skip a class, and Hutchinson agreed.

Jacquelyn received “either a call or a text” and asked Hutchinson if she knew why there was a fire truck and an ambulance at the school.

Shortly after, Deputy Adams came into the office and said that contact had been made with Kendrick’s best friend who said he had not seen him “since school.”

A few other students were called into the office to determine if they had seen Kendrick at the basketball game the previous night. These students said they had not seen him.

Sandra Wilcher, a school social worker, entered Hutchinson’s office and asked her to step out for a moment. The school’s guidance counselors met in a separate office, and Wilcher informed them that a body had been found on campus. The counselors were instructed not to mention anything to anyone unless instructed to do so by the administration because the body had not been identified.

When Hutchinson returned to her office, Jacquelyn asked if the school was on lockdown because she received a call from an individual who was trying to get on campus to pick up the young child. Hutchinson said she would see what she could do to let the individual on campus.

At 10:41 a.m., Jacquelyn left the office with Hutchinson and said she would go to the parking lot to meet the person who was picking up the child, according to Hutchinson.

The Discovery

Investigators spoke with several students and teachers who were in the old gym when Kendrick's body was discovered in the rolled wrestling mat. Two students were children of a Lowndes County School administrator. They were the first to see Kendrick’s body in the mat, according to their interviews in the case file.

After second block started on Jan. 11, students in Phillip Pieplow’s class were completing surveys. Pieplow stated that three of the students climbed on top of the mats in the corner of the gym. One student said she crawled from the bleachers onto the mats to lay down while she filled out the survey. After a few minutes, the student noticed “feet with socks on them” inside one of the mats.

She first thought it was a joke but then called for help. Another student, who was not on the bleachers or mats at the time, climbed on top of the bleachers and onto the mats. He stated that he “looked down into the mat” and saw what looked like a person. He called to Pieplow who climbed to the top of the mats and tried to free whoever was stuck but was unable. More than one student used a cell phone to call 911 and make a report.

Pieplow then hopped off the mats and, with the assistance of the student who called to him, began moving the other mats away to reach the mat containing the body. Once the mats were lowered and the body could be seen, students were asked to leave and go to the new gym.

Pieplow stated that he did not physically touch the body, but he could tell the person was dead because of the smell and the lack of any movement.

Within the case file, each student interview gives the exact same account of how Kendrick’s body was found.     

The Scene

At 10:32 a.m., Deputy Kerry Quinn was dispatched to LHS for a “code blue” and arrived at 10:35 a.m. As he approached the old gym, he saw students running and overheard them saying, “that was a dead body.” Quinn approached the southwest corner of the gym and “detected a mild odor of a corpse.”

Pieplow was bent near the body and told Quinn, “I don’t think anyone can help him.”

Shortly after, a perimeter was established with crime-scene tape and secured by deputies. Personnel from the sheriff’s office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Laboratory responded to the scene.

At 11:25 a.m., an initial walkthrough was conducted by investigators wearing Nitrile gloves, and they documented that there was no sign of forced entry to the old gym through doors or windows.

After a 3D image of the interior scene was created using a Leica Scanning System, investigators used a digital camera to take photos of the school's exterior and slowly progressed to the interior of the gym then to where Kendrick’s body was found inside of the mat.

Hundreds of photographs were taken, including photographs of items that would be taken into evidence, including the yellow folder that Kendrick is seen carrying in surveillance footage of him entering the gym the previous day.

When Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson conducted his examination, Kendrick’s body was lying “approximately on his left side, sticking out of the rolled-up mat from his head to approximately his abdominal area.” Photos of the scene show blood on the floor pooled around the head.

A pair of white, grey and orange Nike shoes were found inside the mat with the body, and one black and white Adidas shoe was found near Kendrick’s head in the pool of blood. The Adidas shoe matched another shoe found on the floor in front of the mats.

Kendrick’s body was removed from the mat to be examined. Rigor and livor mortis had set in, and the face was swollen with blood exiting from his eyes, nose and mouth. No signs of blunt-force trauma can be seen on Johnson’s face or body, according to the narrative in the case file, but there were “visible signs of skin slippage on Johnson’s abdomen area, face and arm,” details that were documented with photographs.

Photographs of Kendrick’s body included in the unredacted case file show a swollen and disfigured face but not a face that resembles the photos purported to be Kendrick that family members and supporters have held up in view of motorists at the intersection near the Lowndes County Judicial Complex.

The Times has contacted lawyers for the Johnson family on multiple occasions in an attempt to obtain a copy of the image and learn when and where it was taken. The family's attorneys have not responded to these requests.

The mat in which Kendrick was found measured 74 inches in length, approximately six feet and a quarter of an inch. The opening of the rolled-up mat where Kendrick’s feet were positioned measured approximately 14.5 inches in diameter. The opening where his head was positioned was approximately 14.75 inches.

Bloody paper towels were discovered in a girl’s restroom near the old gym and were collected. Investigators later matched the DNA of the blood sample to a member of the school’s color guard who injured herself during practice in the old gym the previous night.

Stains on the south wall of the old gym that appeared to be blood were tested by a GBI crime scene specialist and determined to be blood. A DNA test later showed that the blood did not belong to Kendrick.

Kendrick’s body was removed from the scene by Owens Transport and taken to the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab. His body arrived at the lab at approximately 5:30 p.m. and placed in Body Cooler #2 to await transport to the GBI lab in Macon, where an autopsy would be performed.

On Jan. 13, Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine requested that arrangements be made for Kendrick’s father, Kenneth Johnson, to be allowed to make a positive identification of his son. Investigators escorted Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson to the crime lab where the parents made the positive identification.

On Jan. 14, Kendrick’s body was released to Steve Owens for transport to Macon for the GBI autopsy.


The Evidence From the GBI medical examiner’s inventory:

the body of Kendrick Johnson

two white socks

one pair of pants with a cloth belt

one pair of black shorts

one yellow/orange shirt

one pair of plaid underwear

one white tank top T-shirt

one white short-sleeved shirt

three tan/brown rubberband-like hair ties

white earbud headphones with black wire (broken)

From the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office evidence inventory:

1. one black and white size 9.5 Adidas shoe

2. one yellow folder

3. one blue physical science book

4. one grey in color sweater

5. one Western Digital external hard drive containing surveillance video

6. two blood swabs from gym wall

7. one black and white Adidas size 9.5 shoe

8. one pair of white, grey and orange Nike shoes

9. two Memorex DVD-R discs containing surveillance video

10. one LG cell phone

11. bloody paper towels found in the girl’s bathroom

12. one FujiFilm DVD+R disc containing digital images of the scene

13. one FujiFilm DVD+R disc containing digital images of the scene

14. two DVD discs of Leica Scan Documentation and raw data of scene

15. one DVD disc of Kendrick Johnson’s cell phone records

16. one CD with photos of Kendrick Johnson from the medical examiner’s report

17. one CD of an interview with an individual who alleged he was attacked

18. buccal swab from a member of the LHS flag team

The Shoes

Two pairs of shoes were collected from the scene where Kendrick’s body was found: a pair of size nine Nike shoes and a pair of size nine and a half Adidas shoes.

A third pair of shoes, white, grey and orange Nike shoes, were photographed along the south wall of the gym, two bleachers down from the mats where the body was found. Those shoes were not entered into evidence.

Investigators interviewed Kendrick’s sister on Jan. 11 and showed her photographs of the shoes. She indicated that the white and orange Nike shoes, in evidence, belonged to Kendrick and that the white Adidas shoes “were probably his, but she was not sure.”

On Jan. 17, investigators interviewed a student who said that he shared shoes with Kendrick and that they would hide them in the wrestling mats in the old gym. The student also said that Kendrick’s shoes “were black and white Adidas” and that Kendrick also had a pair of “orange and white Griffins.”

On the same day, another student, a friend of Kendrick’s, told investigators that he would also “put his shoes inside the mats.”

On Jan. 31, investigators interviewed a student who had a third block gym class with Kendrick during the fall 2012 semester. The student said he observed “Kendrick Johnson and other students throwing shoes over the mats in the corner and go retrieve them the next day to play basketball.”

In an April 19 interview, investigators talked with a student who had seen students put their shoes behind the mats. On the same day, investigators interviewed another student who said he was familiar with students putting shoes in the mats because he did so also.

In case file photos of the white and orange Nike shoes, stains that look similar to blood can be seen. A GBI crime scene specialist tested the stains, and the results were “negative for blood.”

The Times continues its look inside the investigation in Saturday's edition.