Valdosta Daily Times

April 21, 2013

Protesters demand justice for deceased LHS student

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — With shouts of “No justice, no peace,” and “Honk your horns for KJ,” demonstrators took to Downtown Valdosta Saturday afternoon, continuing what has been two weeks of protests, rallies, demonstrations and vigils for deceased Lowndes High student Kendrick “KJ” Johnson.

The first demonstration two weeks ago was held by just a handful of people, but Saturday saw hundreds of Valdostans turning out.

“The community response has been very good,” said Kenneth Johnson, Kendrick’s father. “It’s the response we expected. Everyone knows that this wasn’t an accident. ... We’ve had a lot of strangers, complete strangers come out to support us. At this point, everyone becomes family.”

In January, Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found dead in the old Lowndes High gymnasium on the school campus. Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office proclaimed no foul play in the case on the same day as the teen’s body was discovered. Authorities believe Johnson was alone in the gym, reached for a loose shoe and fell into a rolled-up wrestling-type mat, became trapped, and died from being upside down for an extended period of time. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation assisted in the investigation.

The family does not agree with the sheriff’s office finding and believes Kendrick was killed. Family and friends believe the photo of Kendrick’s face after death supports their claim. The official autopsy has not yet been completed.

On Saturday, protesters took up posts at downtown street corners, centered around the courthouse. They held signs and encouraged drivers to honk their horns in support. With a grill set up and soft drinks being handed out, the demonstration sometimes had the atmosphere of a relaxed community gathering, albeit one with a somber purpose.

One of the people out protesting was Frances Matchett.

“I’m out here because I don’t know what happened to KJ,” said Frances Matchett. “Being a parent, you don’t want to see this happen to your child. ... I don’t think I could do what Kendrick’s mother is doing. She’s not being allowed to grieve. She’s still trying to figure out what happened to her child.”

Gwendolyn Nelson was also downtown Saturday afternoon as a parent.

“Everyone always thinks these things happen to other people, but I feel it could have happened to anybody’s child,” said Nelson. “This isn’t a Valdosta, Lowndes thing, a white, black, Asian, caucasian thing. This is an everybody thing.”

“One person can’t do it alone. We need the community,” said Matchett. “If there is something wrong, we need the powers that be to investigate.”