The investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead at the age of 17 inside a rolled-up gym mat back in 2013, has been reopened.
The case’s reopening was confirmed by Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk in a statement to WSB-TV on Tuesday. According to their report, Paulk reopened the investigation after receiving documents from federal investigators that had first been requested two years ago. Those documents stem from a federal inquiry circa April 2019, with Paulk’s team being told at the time that they could not access them. Following pleas from Johnson’s family and others, however, a judge allowed the release of the documents.
In January of 2013, Johnson was found inside a rolled-up mat at the Lowndes High School gym in Valdosta, Georgia. Three years later, the Justice Department announced that an independent federal investigation into the death had resulted in “insufficient evidence,” meaning no federal criminal charges would be filed.
While a May 2013 autopsy report concluded that Johnson died from positional asphyxia and ruled the death an accident, a second autopsy—conducted at the family’s request—listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the right side of Johnson’s neck. Hemorrhages to the jaw line were reported to have been found, which were notably not detected during the first autopsy by the GBI medical examiner.
“The Department of Justice, in particular the lawyers and investigators who have worked tirelessly on this investigation, express their most sincere condolences to Kendrick Johnson’s parents, family, and friends,” then-acting United States Attorney Carole Rendon said when announcing the end of the department’s investigation in 2016. “We cannot imagine the pain of their loss, or the depths of their sorrow. We regret that we were unable to provide them with more definitive answers about Kendrick’s tragic death.”
Moving forward, Paulk said in Tuesday’s report that the aim is to begin interviews with key individuals and discussions with additional regional law enforcement officials in an effort to determine whether details were “missed or incorrectly reported” years ago. No timeline has been given for this process.
“I want to start fresh with it and look at it all the way through,” Paulk told WXIA-TV. “I think the community deserves it.”
Complex has reached out to a rep for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office for additional comment.