Teen accidentally died in rolled-up gym mat, report finds

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Teen accidentally died in rolled-up gym mat, report finds

A black Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at his high school nine years ago was killed in a bizarre accident, a new report concluded.

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk ruled out any crime related to the 2013 death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson at Lowndes High School in Valdosta.

Paul reopened the case in March in the face of theories that someone killed the teen and officials covered up the truth.

“All of the evidence, testimony, interviews, grand jury testimony and even the blunt coercion and intimidation of some persons being questioned does not produce anything to prove anything that would have resulted in the death of Kendrick Johnson,” Paulk wrote in a 16-page summary of his investigation.

The sheriff added he found it “disturbing and unethical” that the investigation turned into a witch hunt after the initial probe was closed without any criminal charges. Paulk, who was not in office when Kendrick died, based his reopened case on 17 boxes of material provided by federal authorities.

Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson stand next to a banner on their SUV showing their late son, Kendrick Johnson.
Kendrick Johnson’s mother, Jacquelyn, promised she would continue to push for a federal investigation to be reopened following the ruling that her son’s death was accidental.
AP
Protesters hold up signs during the Justice For Kendrick Johnson Rally.
Rumors that Kendrick was murdered were sparked after a second autopsy found evidence of blunt force trauma on his neck.
Getty Images
Protesters gather during the Justice For Kendrick Johnson Rally at the Georgia State Capitol.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said it was “disturbing and unethical” that the investigation turned into a witch hunt after the initial probe was closed.
Getty Images

He dismissed the theories of a coverup, saying he reviewed testimony of 58 people and several autopsies.

“Any person who looks at this case objectively would know that it would be impossible to conceal any evidence due to the involvement of so many agencies and investigators,” he wrote in the report, released Wednesday and obtained by WCTV.

Kendrick was found face first in a rolled-up gym mat on Jan. 11, 2013 and his death was ruled accidental by local authorities several months later. The first of three autopsies on the teen showed he died from asphyxiation with authorities determining he had likely gotten trapped in the mat while trying to retrieve shoes he had stored there.

A Photo of the original scene where the body was found.
Kendrick was found face first in a rolled-up gym mat and his death was ruled accidental by local authorities.
Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office

The US Department of Justice closed its own investigation in 2016, saying it “found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges.”

But a second autopsy on the exhumed body of the teen found evidence of blunt force trauma on his neck and theories have floated that Kendrick was murdered.

Paulk urged people to read the findings before coming up with a judgment on what happened.

A diagram showing how the body was found.
Authorities believed Kendrick had become trapped in the mat while trying to retrieve shoes he had stored there.
Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office

“In closing, I am quite sure there will still be a contingent that will believe there was foul play,” the sheriff said in his report.

Kendrick’s mother Jackie Johnson told WSB-TV she would continue to push for a federal investigation to be reopened.

“You didn’t find nothing in 17 boxes?” she said. “That’s the craziest lie you could have told. We already knew what team you were on. You are not on the team of righteousness.”

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