Kendrick Johnson was a 17-year-old student at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Georgia, where he was last seen in his fourth-period class on the afternoon of Thursday, January 10, 2013. After that, he never showed up to any of his other classes.
And he wasn’t on the school bus home, as he always was at the end of the day.
Worried like any parents would be, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson reported him missing to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department. Both in their mid-forties, Kenneth is a truck driver and Jackie, a school bus driver. They spent a long night wondering if their child would come home safely.
Lowndes County High School is a complex of low lying buildings, built in a horseshoe shape around a large parking lot. The old school gym is a small building, sandwiched between two larger ones. There are surveillance cameras outside and inside the gym, where a student visited early the next morning following Kendrick’s disappearance.
Wrestling mats were rolled up and standing vertically, as they usually were, in the back of the gym. Horsing around, the student noticed that one mat was different from the others. Someone’s bare feet were sticking out of the top of one of the mats. Was this some sort of practical joke? But it wasn’t Halloween, so what was going on?
The student quickly left and called a teacher. When adults came to the gym and unrolled the mat, inside was the body of a male African American. It was impossible to identify him by sight; his face had been beaten beyond recognition. Paramedics were summoned.
The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department arrived after, though the exact time which they showed up is unclear. Searching the body, police found a wallet in the pocket of his gym shorts. Opening it, the identification said, “Kendrick Johnson.” Inexplicably, County Coroner Bill Watson was not summoned until 3:45 PM, approximately five hours and forty five minutes later.
When Watson got there, it was chaos. The entire scene around the body was trampled by everyone from curious coaches and teachers, to the cops themselves. To say the crime scene was contaminated is putting it mildly. Little evidence was gathered; no one was questioned; and no crime scene photos were taken. The body was eventually carted off to the Harrington Funeral Home, where an interested worker did snap the only photo extant of Kendrick’s face in death.