The case has officially been closed on the death of Kendrick Johnson on Monday (June 20), after the U.S. Justice Department cited insufficient evidence in the teen’s passing.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson, 17, was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School in Valdosta. It was believed his death was caused by accidental “positional asphyxia,” by a medical examiner, leading to beliefs that the teen suffocated after getting stuck in the mat as he allegedly tried to retrieve a shoe.
“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,” acting United States Attorney Carole Rendon said. “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.”
Suspicions were quickly raised after a second autopsy showed blunt force trauma to Johnson’s face and videos of the teen crossing paths with Branden and Brain Bell before his death. The teen’s parents Kenneth and Jackie Johnson questioned the actions of the brothers after it was discovered they were the children of an FBI agent, Rick Bell. An investigation later cleared the teens of any involvement in Johnson’s death. “We have nothing to hide. And the truth always comes out,” Branden Bell said in 2015. “I want everyone to know the truth. And they can ridicule me and they can say whatever they want, but in the end, the truth will prevail.”
The processing of Johnson’s body also raised concerns when it was reported the teen’s organs went missing between autopsies. Johnson’s parents filed a $100 million civil rights lawsuit in January, but was later put on hold.
The statement from the DOJ added nearly 100 people and thousands of emails and text messages were reviewed from January 2013. “That just pushes the dagger a little bit further,” Jacquelyn Johnson told reporters about the final decision. “All we ever asked for were answers and the truth about what happened to Kendrick and they still haven’t given us any answers.”