Family of Teen in Gym Death Sues Funeral Home

The parents of a Georgia teenager say the funeral home took out his organs and stuffed the body cavity with newspaper

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The parents of a Georgia teenager who died under disputed circumstances are suing the funeral home that handled his remains, saying the morticians improperly disposed of his organs and replaced them with newspaper

Kendrick Johnson was found dead, rolled up in a wrestling mat at his high school gym in October. The Lowndes County sheriff concluded that his death was an accident, and that the 17-year-old became stuck in the mat while reaching for a shoe.

But Johnson’s family, believing he had been killed, hired a private pathologist to examine the body. The pathologist discovered that the boy’s internal organs were missing and the cavities had been filled with newspaper.

What happened to his organs remains a mystery. They were removed during an autopsy by the state medical examiner, but the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said that the organs were returned to the body before it went to the funeral home.

Lawyers for the Johnson family filed a civil lawsuit against the Harrington Funeral Home of Valdosta, Georgia, accusing the funeral home of mishandling of a corpse. An attorney for the Harrington Funeral Home has said that the organs were missing before the body arrived at the facility.

The Georgia state medical examiner determined that Johnson died from “positional asphyxia,” where his body was trapped in a position that didn’t allow him to breathe, but the family’s private pathologist concluded that he died from a blow to the neck. The U.S. Attorney for middle Georgia is reviewing the case.