In January 2013, investigators ruled that Johnson, a sophomore at Lowndes County High School in southern Georgia at the time, had died by an accident and closed the case. His parents and members of the community have pushed over the last nine years for additional investigations –– including into those who were initially involved in the case.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk released a statement Thursday (January 26) that the investigation he launched after taking office in 2020 would be officially closed.
Paulk described Johnson's death as a "weird accident" to CNN, stating that "there is nothing to substantiate homicide."
"Nothing criminal happened," Paulk told the outlet.
Investigators initially said Johnson died after he fell into the gym mat while reaching for a shoe and got stuck. But doubt around the ruling were sparked by inconsistencies in reports, and the gruesome revelation that Kendrick's body had been stuffed with newspaper before a pathologist hired by the family could conduct a second autopsy.
That pathologist later ruled that Johnson had died as a result of "unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma to the neck," CNN reported.
The DOJ eventually closed its investigation into Johnson's death. In 2020, Paulk, who was not a part of the initial local investigation, requested the federal investigator's paperwork to launch his own investigation.
"We have not had faith in Lowndes County," Kendrick's father, Kenneth Johnson told CNN. "We knew what the outcome would be from the very beginning."
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264
The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
For more mental health resources, click HERE.