January 10th, 2014
09:02 AM ET

Feds, Family Seek Answers a Year After Kendrick Johnson's Death

Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson still spend their days outside the Lowndes County Courthouse, standing vigil for their son, Kendrick, whose mysterious death a year ago poses many questions in their minds.

They simply want to know how their son ended up in a rolled-up matin his high school's gymnasium on January 10, 2013; his body was found a day later, when students in a gym class glimpsed his feet in the mat.

The original investigation by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office concluded that 17-year-old Kendrick died by accident while reaching for a shoe, but the Johnsons don't believe that. They're planning yet another rally in Valdosta on Saturday to again demand answers.

"They know something happened in that gym and they don't want it to come out," Kenneth Johnson said.

Federal authorities, too, have their doubts about the original investigation's findings. CNN has learned that the FBI has been in South Georgia conducting interviews, and the Johnsons recently spent almost three hours with investigators at an FBI field office in Thomasville, an hour west of their hometown.

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Michael Moore said in November that federal authorities would investigate Johnson's death, and last month, the FBI seized the original hard drives from the surveillance system at Lowndes High School, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation surrounding the hard drives.

The federal investigation has yielded few details, but Moore issued a statement Thursday: "As we approach the anniversary of Kendrick's death, I am mindful that there is a great deal of interest in the status of our efforts. As I have previously stated, in order to protect the integrity of any ongoing investigation by my office, I typically refrain from making any specific comments about the investigation until it is concluded. As we continue our work in this matter, my thoughts and prayers will be with the Johnson family this weekend."

The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office hasn't commented on every twist and turn in the case, but has repeatedly stood by its investigation.

"It was not a rash decision that was leapt to. We've drawn this out, done a thorough investigation and we think we've covered all bases," Lt. Stryde Jones told CNN in May, the day after investigators closed the case.

The sheriff's office said it had interviewed more than 100 people - students, teachers and parents among them - but the timing of those interviews raises questions for at least one analyst.

CNN examined the 522-page police file and found that investigators spoke to 111 people.

Eighteen of those interviews occurred the day Kendrick Johnson's body was found, and another 15 people were interviewed later that month. Investigators then spoke to five more people in February and March before conducting interviews with 72 people in April, about the time media coverage of Kendrick Johnson's death gained momentum. One person was interviewed in May, according to the investigative file.

Former Washington Metropolitan Police Department detective Mike Brooks, an analyst for CNN's sister network, HLN, said that if he were involved in the investigation, he would "want to interview someone that day, that night or maybe the following day while things are still fresh in their mind."

The first responders weren't interviewed until April 17, according to the file, and the paramedic who noticed bruising on Kendrick Johnson's jaw - and considered the gym to be a crime scene - wasn't interviewed until April 18. Investigators didn't speak to the janitors who cleaned the gym until April 26.

Surveillance video shows other students in the gym with Kendrick Johnson before he died, but according to local investigators' reports, there's no record of interviews with any of them, although they spoke to more than 90 students.

"I looked at the crime scene investigation, evidence collection, the autopsy, the interviews that were done and were not done in a timely fashion. This is a sloppy case from the get-go," Brooks said.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Veronica g

    Go to msnbc article about Kendrick Johnson. There are two comments that are so emotional and hateful; makes you wonder if they are from Valdosta and concerned about the investigation.

    January 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  2. Mom of 3

    My heart breaks that a year later and the family still has not found closure. I've been watching this case from NC. I will continue, until justice is served!

    January 10, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  3. James Bradbury

    To Whom it may concern,
    I have a feeling that this is going to end up like the Scooter Libby case where they can't prosecute anybody,
    So much of the evidence has been covered up and contaminated. I believe this to be a murder case that was so well
    documented in the Ebony magazine article I read, They have a suspect but so much damage has been done that all
    they'll be able to come up with is obstruction of justice and try and blame it on a poor investigation that somehow
    went wrong. The FBI is investigating the FBI and that is always a nightmare. If charges are not brought then the
    investigation is just a further cover up to an already bad situation, Thank you, Jimmy b

    January 10, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  4. Johnnerlyn

    What a horribly botched investigation! Anyone with children and even half of a heart would command to know each detail as it relates to his/her son/daughter's DEATH – not injury, not paralysis – AN ACTUAL DEATH. If Lowndes County High School was a good example of safe and drug-free schools in America on January 10, 2013, I shudder to fathom what an unsafe one looks like. Applicable Lowndes law enforcement, Applicable LCHS Technology Dept., Applicable perpetrators, Affected LCHS administration, etc. I bid you God's grace and mercy. He's still in the forgiving business, and He doles it out daily to those who ask for it. Johnson Family, may you continue to press forward until full closure is achieved. I feel as if this is my child, and I just thank God for the media coverage, God's protection, and the family's fortitude.

    January 10, 2014 at 10:50 am | Reply

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