No Criminal Charges Relating To Teen Who Died Inside Gym Mat

Department of Justice claims "insufficient evidence" to pursue murder charges, but the teen's parents believed he was murdered by football team rivals. 

By Benjamin H. Smith

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it would not be filing any criminal charges in the strange death of Kendrick Johnson. The 17-year-old was found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at his high school in Georgia. Despite this, and local and regional authorities determining the death to be an accident, Johnson’s family still have many questions about the circumstances surrounding his demise.

Kendrick Johnson’s lifeless body was discovered on January 11, 2013 at Lowndes High School, which he attended in Valdosta, Georgia, near the Florida border. It was found inside a large wrestling mat in the school’s gymnasium. Local medical examiners deemed the death an accident, and that Johnson died from “positional asphyxia” after he got stuck inside the mat. It is surmised he was looking for a pair of shoes he had stashed behind the stack of mats, purportedly a common practice for students at the school. 

However, Kendrick’s parents Jackie and Kenneth Johnson have had questions about his death from the start, including why it took six hours for sheriff’s to notify the county coroner and why none of the four cameras inside the school gym recorded any of the events surrounding death. They hired a private pathologist who found Kendrick died of blunt force trauma to the head, a different outcome than the local medical examiner. It is their contention Kendrick was murdered by rivals on the Lowndes football team, and their parents launched a massive cover up. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lowndes County Board of Education, and a $100 million civil lawsuit against 38 individuals, including Kendrick’s classmates as well as state and local officials, but later withdrew the suit after failing to provide any credible evidence in court.

 After demonstrations and a robust online campaign, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia began an official inquiry into Kendrick Johnson’s death. On Monday it released a statement saying, “After extensive investigation into this tragic event, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people willfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime,” adding, “The Department of Justice, in particular the lawyers and investigators who have worked tirelessly on this investigation, express their most sincere condolences to Kendrick Johnson’s parents, family, and friends.” 

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