A review of Lowndes High School video footage shows more than the moments Kendrick Johnson entered the old gymnasium where his body was discovered Jan. 11 in a rolled wrestling mat.
It reveals what is likely the 17-year-old’s final walk through Lowndes High School.
The Times has spent numerous hours reviewing the video and case reports released recently by court order. The Times has discovered video footage of Kendrick Johnson in another part of the school then followed his path as he made his way to the gymnasium.
In reviewing this footage, The Times found additional video with time stamps, and discovered the reason time stamps are missing from some of the video. Times research also reveals that the school’s video time stamps were not synchronized, but there is no apparent discrepancy in Johnson’s path from one part of the school to the old gymnasium.
This is the first part of a two-part series reviewing the videos and the case file into the death of the LHS student, a death which a state autopsy ruled accidental, but a family-sponsored autopsy ruled non-accidental. The second part of this series is scheduled to run in Friday’s editions of The Times.
Lowndes High School video surveillance footage does not show how or when Kendrick became trapped in the mat where students discovered his body in January. The old gymnasium’s security cameras are positioned so the area where the wrestling mats were stored is not visible. Video shows Kendrick entering the old gym but never leaving. The videos cannot definitively answer the question of how Kendrick died, but previously unseen footage does show how and when he reached the old gym.
Before describing what might be Kendrick’s final moments, it is important to note that piecing together an exact timeline of events has been difficult. There are six separate video surveillance servers at LHS, and each camera sends footage to one of those servers. The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office requested footage from three of the servers to aid its investigation, said Warren Turner, attorney for the Lowndes County School System.
The footage from those 59 cameras was exported by Scott Forthe, senior technology technician with Lowndes County Schools, and given to detectives on an external hard drive the afternoon Kendrick’s body was found. The same footage was made available to the Johnson family and media outlets through open records requests following a judge’s ruling Oct. 30.
Each surveillance server has its own internal clock, and one server’s clock may not match another’s. The servers do not communicate with each other to “sync-up” their clocks, said Al Rowell, director of technology for Lowndes County Schools. Not having that time-sync capability can lead to extreme time differences between the servers. For example, when one camera captures what is happening at noon, another camera on a separate server could capture the same moment but time-stamp it as 12:10 p.m.
Creating a timeline becomes even more problematic when looking at the footage from Jan. 10 and 11. The video was exported from the school’s two Integral Technologies servers and one Toshiba Surveillix server. The footage from the Integral cameras show approximately 36 hours worth of footage from the school’s old gym and surrounding areas, and the Surveillix cameras capture approximately 48 hours of the C-wing and administrative office areas.
In a Nov. 7 press conference, Chevene King, one of the lawyers representing the Johnson family, stated that the video footage did not contain time stamps and that there was no “way of making sense of what it purports to show.”
Following that statement, The Times reported that time stamps were not present. Since then, The Times has been able to determine that time stamps do exist for at least a portion of the videos.
The videos supplied to the Johnson family and The Times from the sheriff’s office are separated into two folders on an external hard drive. The folder labeled “LHS Integral Cameras” contains video files exported from the school’s two Integral Technology servers. The Integral server files do not contain time stamps and can be viewed using most media players. The folder labeled “LHS Surveillix Cameras” contains software and raw data camera footage. The Surveillix software must be installed on a computer to view the footage and time stamps.
Using the Surveillix software, it is possible to trace Kendrick’s last foot steps from the entrance to C-wing near classroom C305 to the old gym. The time stamps from the Surveillix system are relatively accurate given that third block classes were dismissed at approximately 1:25 p.m. on Jan. 10 and students can be seen leaving classrooms at that time.