Each year, Times employees select 10 news stories from the previous 12 months that had the greatest impact on the community and the largest response from readers.
Tragedy again dominates the list following the deaths of several young men and women in separate incidents. A large explosion and fire, the loss of an historically sentimental site, issues in local government decisions, SPLOST, and large construction projects round out the top 10 for the year.
1. The Death of Kendrick Johnson
One of the earliest stories of 2013 became not only the top story of the year but a story that dominated the year.
On Jan. 11, 17-year-old Lowndes High student Kendrick “KJ” Johnson’s body was discovered in a rolled-up wrestling mat inside the school’s old gym. He’d been missing since the previous day.
Law-enforcement officials and a state autopsy determined the teenager’s death to be accidental, caused by positional asphyxia, claiming he became trapped upside down in the mat while trying to retrieve a shoe.
The Johnson family did not accept the state’s findings. They believed someone killed KJ. By spring, the family began a vigil outside the Lowndes County Judicial Complex, which continued throughout the remainder of the year. They carried posters bearing the disfigured face of the dead teen and demanded Justice for KJ.
The family won the right to exhume Kendrick Johnson’s body for an independent autopsy. This second autopsy claimed to find blunt-force trauma to the neck and determined the death to be non-accidental.
Throughout the year, the case drew more attention from rallies in Valdosta to becoming a social-media phenomenon to national news coverage.
The family demanded a coroner’s inquest, which has not been granted, and a federal investigation, which is under ongoing review by U.S. Attorney Michael Moore’s office.
The KJ story now continues into 2014.