About this series
This is the third of four stories by the Valdosta Daily Times reviewing the official police file on the investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson, 17, the Lowndes High School student whose body was discovered Jan. 11 in a rolled-up wrestling mat in the school’s old gymnasium.
Today’s report is about the confusion surrounding Kendrick’s whereabouts the day before his body was found, explains police handling of a report that a person was attacked and falsely accused of killing Kendrick, and tells about the dissatisfaction of Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson with how authorities handled the immediate investigation.
Sunday’s final installment will provide details of the findings of the family’s pathologist, accusations that the children of an FBI agent killed Kendrick, and what is likely to happen next in the case.
Jacquelyn Johnson expected her son to arrive home Jan. 10 after watching a freshmen basketball game at Lowndes High School that evening.
But 17-year-old Kendrick didn’t show up at the expected time and shortly after midnight, his mother filed a missing person’s report with police. A few hours later she was at the high school when she got the tragic news her son had been found dead in a rolled-up wrestling mat in the old gymnasium.
A state autopsy determined the youth died accidentally of “positional asphyxia” from being trapped upside down in the mat for an extended period. Johnson’s family believes he was a victim of foul play. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern Georgia is currently investigating the case.
Confusion surrounding Kendrick’s death is linked to his body being found 21 hours – about 10:30 a.m. Jan. 11 – after he was last seen entering the old gym on Jan. 10 around 1:30 p.m., as recorded by the school’s surveillance cameras.
More than three months later, on April 25, investigators interviewed a member of the basketball team who practiced in the old gym on Jan. 10. He told them he did not see Johnson there and observed nothing out of the ordinary. The wrestling mats were lined up in an out-of-the-way corner of the gym.
The same student said he attended the freshmen basketball game but did not see Johnson at the game.
Investigators also looked into the Lowndes County Sheriff’s office conversation with a high school student who came forward on Jan. 11 to claim someone posted a statement on Facebook to the effect that, “When you start messing the goons bodies start showing up” after Johnson’s body was found.
Investigators could not confirm the statement because the Facebook account had been deactivated, but the student said it might have been tied to a feud between a member of a group called “CVC” – for Clyattville Click – that Johnson belonged to and the Facebook poster over a girlfriend.
That afternoon, at 1:25 p.m., the sheriff’s office received a call from the Valdosta Police Department that the Facebook poster had reported he had been “jumped” by a group of people. The sheriff’s office and Valdosta police interviewed him about the matter.
The poster stated he was standing on the west side of the road in the 1300 block of North Troup Street with a friend when Johnson’s sister “pulled up in a blue vehicle with several other subjects.” He said the sister looked at the friend and said, “what the f--- are you laughing about?”
The poster said he was soon surrounded by the group when he heard the sister say, “you killed my brother,” followed by a man, who was crying, striking him in the face. He told investigators “the next thing he knew he was on the ground being hit by several black males.”
He also said he was struck in the head with a silver pistol before escaping into a nearby apartment, but Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress told The Times his injuries were not consistent with that account.