VALDOSTA, Ga. — A south Georgia funeral home broke no laws when it used newspapers to stuff the body of a Valdosta teenager found dead last year inside a rolled up gym mat at his school, state regulators concluded in a report.
The family of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson of Valdosta filed a complaint with the Georgia Board of Funeral Service last year after newspaper was found in the place of his missing organs when the body was exhumed for a second autopsy.
Johnson’s parents, who are fighting to have their son’s death declared a homicide after authorities concluded it was a freak accident, said they found the funeral home’s use of newspapers to be disrespectful.
Attorneys for the Johnson family released a letter from the board saying it found Harrington Funeral Home broke no state law. However, the board also said that using newspaper to fill a body cavity is not considered a “best practice,” The Valdosta Daily Times reported Saturday.
Students at Lowndes High School discovered Johnson’s body Jan. 11, 2013, inside a rolled up gym mat propped against the wall.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner concluded he died from positional asphyxia, meaning his body was stuck upside down and he was unable to breathe.
Sheriff’s investigators concluded Johnson got trapped in the mat while reaching for a gym shoe that had fallen inside.
Johnson’s parents insist someone must have killed him and have pushed to reopen the case. The U.S. attorney for middle Georgia is reviewing the investigation with help from the FBI.
It’s still unclear what happened to Johnson’s internal organs after the GBI autopsy. The GBI has said it returned the organs to the body before sending it to the funeral home. But the funeral home has said the organs were missing when the body arrived. Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson has said many of Johnson’s organs were deemed too badly decomposed to be preserved and had to be disposed of before the body was embalmed.