Johnson family protests, autopsy results announced

Published: May. 2, 2013 at 4:28 PM EDT|Updated: May. 7, 2013 at 9:16 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - The family of a Lowndes High School student who died at school tonight is demanding a federal investigation.

Today, investigators officially ruled 17-year old Kendrick Johnson's death an accident.

That announcement came just an hour before friends, family and civil rights activists marched outside Lowndes High School demanding justice.

The family believes Johnson was murdered. His body was found inside a rolled-up cheerleading mat in the old Lowndes High School gym January 11th. Investigators believe he was in the gym alone, reached into the mat to get something he dropped, and got stuck. Today's final autopsy report ruled the death an accident as a result of positional asphyxia.

"I'm frustrated that my nephew was supposedly found in a mat, when that doesn't make sense," said Johnson's Aunt, Stacy Roe.

Civil Rights activists with Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network and The United Justice League led the rally, calling for a federal investigation.

"We want an independent investigation, lets just say by an agency with higher credentials than Lowndes County. There's been a number of what we feel are inconsistencies, are mishandlings, and for that very reason is why we want another set of eyes," said Atlanta's National Action Network Chapter President, Marcus Coleman.

The family says they expected the autopsy report would rule the death as an accident. And they plan to keep rallying until federal investigators step in.

"When you have the body that's been moved, when you have the Coroner's Office being notified hours later, when you have the misplacement of his clothing, which could be a direct indicator of any evidence needed to move forward," said Coleman.

Lowndes County Sheriff's officials say the statements of his body being moved and his clothes being misplaced are untrue. But Coroner Bill Waston has voiced his anger that he wasn't notified until hours after Johnson's body was discovered. The Sheriff's office says the investigation still remains open.

The Johnson Family organized another rally Saturday at Serenity Christian Church in Valdosta at 5:00 p.m. Reverend Al Sharpton is scheduled to speak.

Copyright 2013 WALB.  All rights reserved.

As Lowndes County law enforcement officials today confirmed their belief that Kendrick Johnson died of accidental positional asphyxia, family and friends of the dead teen protest outside the school.

Joined by groups from out of town, the protesters say they want a federal investigation into the death of the Lowndes County High School student who died when he became trapped in a rolled-up athletic mat at the old gymnasium.

The coroner, the sheriff, and the district attorney said after their initial investigation that it appeared that Johnson crawled down into the mat, which was stood up on its end, and could not get out, dying of suffocation.

The family has never believed that explanation, and have kept up a constant drum-beat for what they call "the truth" about Johnson's death.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine issued this release Thursday- 

This morning Sheriff Prine, investigators from the Sheriff's Office, Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson and District Attorney J. David Miller and all met and participated in a conference call with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In addition of the persons from Lowndes County, the call was attended by Doctor Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of Kendrick Johnson in January, George Herring, Deputy Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation-Division of Forensic Sciences, Doctor Kris Sperry, Chief Medical Examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and representatives from the Forensic Biology section of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

During this call, the findings of recent forensic testing and the autopsy were relayed. Based on the findings of the investigation, physical evidence, forensic sciences and the autopsy, the death of Kendrick Johnson has been ruled as an accident as a result of positional asphyxia.

Although not previously released, Sheriff Prine stated that this investigation was very extensive and included the completion of multiple forensic tests, including DNA samples collected from the scene and the interview of over one hundred {100} persons, including students, teachers and other people who were identified as the investigation progressed.

Nothing learned during the investigation has indicated anything other than this was a tragic accident.

Sheriff Prine continued to express his sorrow for the family and hopes that with the release of the investigative findings, including the medical findings, the family can find the answers they seek and begin the healing process.

Here are previous stories WALB has produced on Johnson's death-

Copyright 2013 WALB.  All rights reserved.