VALDOSTA, Ga. — The bizarre death of a teenager inside a high school gymnasium has unleashed torrents of controversy in this South Georgia community, where the teen's parents and supporters claim authorities are covering up a murder.
Kendrick Lamar Johnson, 17, was found dead in an old gymnasium on the Lowndes High School campus the morning of Friday, Jan. 11. His body was upside down, wedged inside a roll of gym mats.
The day Johnson was found, the Lowndes County Sheriff's office said it believed no one else was involved in his death. The state medical examiner released a report this past Thursday confirming the death was an accident.
Investigators say Johnson, a sophomore athlete, was alone in the gym and probably reached for a loose shoe when he fell into the rolled up mat and got stuck. Investigators said he died from asphyxiation caused by being suspended upside down.
Johnson's parents say they believe otherwise. His family and their supporters have staked out downtown street corners, waving posters with an image of the teen's post-mortem face, as well as signs with slogans such as, "Honk Your Horn for KJ" and "Justice for Kendrick." The Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to speak at a local church Saturday to draw attention to calls for a new investigation.
"I want the people to know that my son was murdered at Lowndes High School, and we will not stop until we have justice," Jacquelyn Johnson said during a downtown rally last month. "We'll be out here every day until someone gives us some answers and the people responsible are behind bars."
Johnson was black - as are nearly a quarter of the 3,000 students at Lowndes High - but one of his aunts said race has nothing to do with this case.