Georgia Teen’s Body Missing Organs After Autopsy, Sparking Questions About His Death

Kendrick Johnson's parents are pressing authorities to reopen investigation

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The Valdosta Daily Times / Adam Floyd / AP

Jacquelyn and Kenneth Johnson, center left and right, parents of Kendrick Johnson, the Georgia teen found dead inside a rolled-up wrestling mat at his school, walk with their attorneys on Oct. 10, 2013, at the Lowndes County Judicial Complex in Valdosta, Ga.

On Thursday, parents of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson announced plans to insist that authorities reopen the investigation into their son’s death, based on a second autopsy revealing that most of the Georgia teen’s internal organs were missing.

Johnson’s body was discovered by school officials rolled up in a wrestling mat propped up against bleachers at the high school gym after Johnson’s parents reported him missing on Jan 11. Lowndes County sheriff’s investigators believed the teen fell into the mat to retrieve a shoe and became stuck. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) medical examiner cited “positional asphyxia” as the cause of death, meaning he suffocated while stuck. But recent revelations from a second autopsy commissioned by the family raise questions surrounding his death.

Johnson’s parents had the body exhumed over the summer and a private pathologist found that most of his internal organs had been removed and replaced with newspaper. The pathologist also concluded that the teen suffered from a fatal blow to the neck. Johnson’s parents were joined by lawyer Benjamin Crump, who worked Trayvon Martin’s case.

A lawyer for the Harrington Funeral Home in Valdosta, Ga., where Johnson’s body was taken after the first autopsy, said the organs were missing when the body arrived, the Associated Press reports. But GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said the organs were inside the body when it was sent, while Lowndes County coroner Bill Watson said a lot of the teen’s organs were disposed of because of decomposition.

The family is filing a lawsuit to ask a judge for an inquest, which would serve as a public hearing and possibly change Johnson’s death certificate from accidental to homicide. If successful, investigators would then reopen the case.

[Associated Press]