Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

January 15, 2013

Autopsy returned in student death

Sheriff: No signs of struggle found

VALDOSTA — A Lowndes High School student apparently climbed on top of rolled, upright wrestling mats last week, fell into a center opening of a rolled mat, became lodged inside, upside down, and died, according to the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office Monday.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner’s Office’s autopsy appears to support investigators’ conclusion of no foul play into the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, whose body was found Friday morning, Jan. 11, in Lowndes High’s old gym.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine told The Times that the autopsy, his investigators and GBI investigators found no signs of struggle.

“During that exam, no indications of injury that would have caused the death of Kendrick Johnson were found,” according to a Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office release. “Investigators found no signs of a struggle having taken place.”

Even though investigators do not believe foul play was involved in the case, the sheriff said Monday he and his investigators will continue interviewing students and friends who have additional information.

Based on hours of investigation Friday by Lowndes sheriff’s investigators, assisted by GBI agents, authorities believe the sophomore entered Lowndes High’s old gym and climbed on top of the mats which were standing upright. Prine said it is possible Johnson may have been reaching for a shoe that had fallen into the mat; a shoe was found at the scene.

“At some point, Kendrick Johnson either reached into the center of one of the rolled mats or fell into the center opening of the mat and became lodged,” according the sheriff’s office statement.

“We feel like he was trying to reach a shoe that was down that hole,” the sheriff said, “but no one knows (why he reached into the mat) but him and the good Lord.”

The student was upside down in the mat, with blood rushing to his head and upper extremities, causing him to pass out, the sheriff said. Keeping a human body upside down for an extended period of time can be deadly, causing hemorrhaging, stroke and heart failure.

In Johnson’s case, the medical examiner’s office is also running toxicology tests, which can take weeks to complete, before determining the exact cause of death. The sheriff said he does not expect to see a full report on the cause of death for at least a month.

Johnson’s family reported him missing Thursday evening, Jan. 10, after he did not return home from Lowndes High School, the sheriff said. On Friday morning, Jan. 11, Johnson’s body was discovered in the school’s old gymnasium.

Authorities began their investigation as Lowndes High students texted and posted on Facebook regarding the death. For a period, no one could enter or leave Lowndes High. Numerous parents arrived to pick up their children. Classes continued throughout Friday and parents were eventually allowed inside to pick up their children.

Sheriff’s and GBI investigators initially worked the scene as a suspected homicide. The sheriff’s office and Lowndes County School System issued a statement of suspecting no foul play by Friday night.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine asks that anyone with information about this, or any other incident contact the Sheriff’s Office, (229) 671-2950; or on line at www.lowndessheriff.com. Anonymous tips can be left at (229) 671-2985.

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