Valdosta Daily Times

April 11, 2013

Family wants answers in LHS student's death

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — For a second day, downtown commuters have been jolted into their mornings by posters bearing a gruesome photo of a deceased Lowndes High student, but family members and supporters have stated their intent to continue waving images of Kendrick Johnson’s blistered and bloated face before motorists until the investigation into his January 2013 death has concluded.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into the 17-year-old’s death is still open and the autopsy is not yet complete, but for Kendrick’s family and friends, the wait has been too long and they're looking for answers. The family and supporters have  been waving signs bearing an image of his face post-mortem labeled with slogans such as “Honk your horn for KJ” and “Justice for Kendrick.”

“We want justice for Kendrick Johnson,” said his mother Jackie Johnson at the rally Wednesday morning on the corner outside of the Lowndes County Judicial Complex. She wouldn’t reveal how the family obtained the image or share its source.

“I want the people to know that my son was murdered at Lowndes High School,” she said, “and we will not stop until we have justice. We’ll be out here everyday until someone gives us some answers and the people responsible are behind bars.”

Half a block down from Kendrick’s mother, two of his aunts, Tesha Tooley and Stacy Rho, were encouraging horn honks in support of the group’s efforts.

“This is not a racial thing. It’s not about black and it’s not about white — it’s about justice,” said Tooley. “We want justice. Even if it happened to a white child, we’d be out here supporting that white family. So it’s about justice and not about race. My sister sent her child to school to get an education, not to be murdered.”

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office has concluded its investigation, noting in January that authorities suspected no foul play in the student’s death. The sheriff’s office has been assisting the GBI when asked, Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine said Wednesday.

“We just sent the GBI a second blood sample to look at it again and make sure everything is like they say it is,” said Prine. “We’re just cooperating with them and getting them anything they need. Of course, we always work deaths similar to this one as a homicide investigation until it’s been proven accidental — and that’s how we’ve treated this investigation.”

Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson has been in contact with the GBI regarding Kendrick’s autopsy, he said. But the Coroner hasn’t enjoyed the same level of cooperation from the sheriff’s office as the GBI, said Watson, who also stated he wasn’t contacted when Kendrick’s body was first discovered.

“This was not fair to the decedent, his family, and the citizens of Valdosta and Lowndes County, Ga. And it’s wrong as rain,” Watson said in January when he spoke to The Times. “You may not want me on your crime scene, but it’s a law. It’s not something you can change your mind about.”

As appalling as the image of Kendrick’s post-mortem face may be, it’s up to the GBI’s medical experts to determine if the lacerations and bruising were the result of positional asphyxiation and elapsed time, or if it was the result of foul play.

“The unofficial ruling from the crime lab was that it was certainly an accident and there were no signs of foul play, whatsoever,” said Prine. “Once we get the final results back from the autopsy, that information will be made available to the public. I feel very badly for the suffering that family has to go through, and of course, our hearts and prayers go out to the family. It was a terrible way to end a life and we’re doing everything we can.”

Kendrick’s family has reportedly hired an attorney, backed by a pair of retired homicide detectives conducting their own investigation, but The Times’ phone calls to the reported attorney weren’t returned.