Missing organs fuel outcry over Ga. teen's death

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — The parents of a Georgia teenager whose body was found inside a rolled-up wrestling mat at school said Thursday that they have a new reason to suspect signs of foul play were covered by investigators – their son was buried without his internal organs.

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Regina Rawls, left, leads supporters in demanding "justice" in the death of Kendrick Johnson, the south Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up wrestling mat in his school, during a rally at the Lowndes County Judicial Complex.  ADAM FLOYD/ASSOCIATED PRESS
ADAM FLOYD/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Regina Rawls, left, leads supporters in demanding "justice" in the death of Kendrick Johnson, the south Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up wrestling mat in his school, during a rally at the Lowndes County Judicial Complex.

The body of Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found Jan. 11 in south Georgia. Lowndes County sheriff’s investigators concluded that he died in a freak accident. But Johnson’s family believes he was killed and has been pressuring authorities into taking a second look at the case.

The teenager’s family announced Thursday that the Florida lawyer who helped push for a criminal prosecution in the shooting of Trayvon Martin has joined efforts to reopen an investigation into Johnson’s death. His parents also revealed that when Johnson’s body was exhumed over the summer for a second autopsy, the private pathologist discovered his organs were missing and newspaper had been used to fill the body cavity.

“I feel outraged about them stuffing my son’s body with newspaper,” Jaquelyn Johnson said.

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who helped focus national attention on the 2012 shooting death of Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, said the discovery raises questions about why Johnson’s organs went missing and couldn’t be examined in the follow-up autopsy the family requested.

“When you think about it logically, it seems to be some kind of conspiracy to conceal the truth about what happened to Kendrick and who did it to him,” Crump said.

School officials found Johnson’s body in the gym after his parents reported him missing the night before. He was stuck upside down in the middle of a wrestling mat that had been rolled up and propped upright behind bleachers.

Sheriff Chris Prine has said he suspected Johnson became trapped trying to retrieve a shoe that fell into the center of the large, rolled mat. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner concluded that he died from positional asphyxia, his body stuck in a position in which he couldn’t breathe.

But a judge agreed in May to exhume the body, and Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson hired Dr. William R. Anderson to provide a second opinion. The private pathologist presented a four-page report of his findings Aug. 15 saying he detected hemorrhaging on the right side of Johnson’s neck. He concluded the teenager died from blunt force trauma near his carotid artery and that the fatal blow appeared to be nonaccidental.

Johnson’s family said Anderson also revealed that most of his internal organs were missing and the body cavity was filled with newspaper.

GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said Thursday that the agency’s policy is to return all organs to bodies after autopsies. That’s what happened in Johnson’s case, she said.

“Those organs were in the body when we sent it back to the funeral home,” said Lang, who added that the GBI stands by the conclusions of its autopsy that found no foul play involved.

But Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson said many of Johnson’s organs were deemed too badly decomposed to be preserved and had to be disposed of before the body was sent to the funeral home. “It would’ve been during or immediately after the autopsy,” he said.

Harrington Funeral Home in Valdosta, which handled Johnson’s body, referred calls to attorney Roy Copeland. He said Johnson’s organs were missing when the body arrived at Harrington. He also said standard embalming practice is to fill empty space in body cavities with material such as sawdust or cotton.

“Is newspaper necessarily more indicting that sawdust or cotton?” Copeland said.

Medical examiners commonly remove internal organs during forensic autopsies. After autopsies, those organs are typically sealed in a plastic bag and placed back in the body, said Vernie Fountain, who runs an embalming school in Springfield, Mo. When organs are missing, such as in cases involving organ donors, space inside the body cavity often is filled with an absorbent, preservative powder, Fountain said. Sometimes cotton is used with powder.

“I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anyone who told me they’ve used old newspapers,” Fountain said. “There may not be any law that prohibits it. I don’t know. But it’s just not something that’s within what I would consider acceptable standards.”

The Georgia secretary of state’s office, which regulates funeral homes in the states, is investigating how Johnson’s body was handled, spokesman Jared Thomas said.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s parents are preparing to file a lawsuit asking a judge to order a coroner’s inquest in their son’s death, said Chevene King, an attorney working with the family. An inquest would present the evidence in Johnson’s death in a public hearing, much like a trial. Johnson’s parents hope the outcome would be to change the manner of death listed on his death certificate from accidental to homicide – paving the way to reopen a criminal investigation.

“This can happen to any of our kids,” said Kenneth Johnson, the teenager’s father. “We just can’t allow this to happen again and again and again.”

Johnson’s family asked the Justice Department to get involved, arguing that authorities failed to investigate Johnson’s death thoroughly because he’s black. But the Justice Department found insufficient evidence to support an investigation. U.S. Attorney Michael Moore in Macon has been monitoring the case but has yet to announce whether he’ll take any further action. Moore did not immediately return a phone message Thursday.

Watson said he reviewed the second autopsy report on Johnson, but found it vague and lacking the specifics of the GBI’s findings.

“I’m terribly sorry for the family,” Watson said. “But I don’t think raising all this Cain down here is going to bring closure to them.”

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JRC2024
8854
Points
JRC2024 10/10/13 - 11:36 pm
10
5
Why would the parents make

Why would the parents make the racial statement. So sad that they lost their son and sad that they make statement like that.

myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 10/11/13 - 05:51 am
9
7
Yep, just lost all

Yep, just lost all credibility with me. Now, instead of seeing them as greiving parents; I'm seeing them as money hungry people, looking to sue anyone with deep pockets and to assist in that process, they are going to make a racial issue out of it. Now, instead of sympathy, which they should have some; I feel absolutely nothing for them.

myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 10/11/13 - 05:54 am
2
4
2nd; because the organs were

2nd; because the organs were missing, doesn't mean foul play during the death. It could mean foul play at the funeral home, or someone during the process. Because organ selling is a HUGE business in this Country now. You can get over 100k for organs, easily!! Anyone along this process could have been guilty of removing his organs for selling them. YES, it does need to be looked into and someone needs to be prosecuted. I'm just saying it doesn't mean foul play in his death.

Bodhisattva
6179
Points
Bodhisattva 10/11/13 - 06:18 am
10
3
I doubt seriously that there

I doubt seriously that there is much of a market for nonfunctioning, days old organs. They don't just sprout back to life. There's a very limited time frame from harvesting to transplant and meticulous handling in between. These would have been dead and worthless unless someone is just a collector of the macabre and weird.

itsanotherday1
43000
Points
itsanotherday1 10/11/13 - 08:57 am
4
1
The most plausible thing is

The most plausible thing is that the organs were decomposing and disposed of; and the cheapskate funeral home used newspapers instead of more expensive materials. Shame on them if it is true.

As far as cause of death, I dunno. There may be cause for further investigation and may not. It has to be heart wrenching to lose a child under any circumstances; much less weird ones like that.

butterflygina
159
Points
butterflygina 10/11/13 - 09:07 am
4
0
There is more to this story.

There is more to this story. It may not be an issue of race but there is more and I pray that the family gets the answers the so desperately need and the justice Kendrick deserves.

Fiat_Lux
15420
Points
Fiat_Lux 10/11/13 - 09:42 am
4
1
The fact that a shoe was found below him

lends credence to the medical examiner's conclusions of positional asphyxia. Every move he made to escape would have pushed him down even further and compressed his shoulders and chest more and more. His heart eventually would have given out trying to pump his blood against gravity.

The only question is whether anyone knew he was stuck in that mat and left him there as a prank.

As for his organs, they might well have been liquified by the time the examiner was done with them. Perhaps it's a judgement call as to whether bags of liquid are left inside the body cavity or not.

internationallyunknown
4210
Points
internationallyunknown 10/11/13 - 10:16 am
2
7
MY GOD!

There is more to the story.
Yes race in involved.
Yes, the "suspects" are connected to a very wealthy family in the Savannah area
Yes, they are white.

THERE IS MORE TO THE STORY.

Trying to retrive a shoe? Do you really believe that?

Just wait.

JayJay
29
Points
JayJay 10/11/13 - 10:42 am
5
3
cheap

It's heartwreching that the Johnson family has lost their son. Unfortunately, they will live to regret their poor decision to play the race card. Their first bad decision was seeking out the same lawyer who unsuccessfuly tried to make his last case about race. Foul play or asphyxiation, they have done their poor son a disservice by crying "race".

dashiel
176
Points
dashiel 10/11/13 - 10:58 am
0
5
Further investigation

Further investigation revealed an unopened bag of M&M's inside the missing shoe...

internationallyunknown
4210
Points
internationallyunknown 10/11/13 - 11:23 am
3
3
^

Nothing but the devil.
Bless your heart.

The child was also found naked in the gym mat....
How did the GBI miss blutn force trauma?

Someone is trying to hide the real cause of the kid's death makes more sense to me than the idea that there could've been such gross incompetence every step of the way in his handling.

Little Lamb
45902
Points
Little Lamb 10/11/13 - 11:23 am
1
4
Shoe

I heard they were Skittles, Dashiel.

internationallyunknown
4210
Points
internationallyunknown 10/11/13 - 11:27 am
2
5
Video

Why hasnt' the school released the video?

Some things never change in the SOUTH.

Jake
32530
Points
Jake 10/11/13 - 11:28 am
0
0
Autopsy procedures.....

.....must have changed since the 60's. I assisted Dr. Frank Mullins on several autopsies and the usual procedure was to remove all of the internal organs (brain included), cut sections of the necessary tissues and sew the cadaver up. The organs not needed were disposed of in the autopsy room. When we were done there was a cadaver that was empty of all of it's organs.

Little Lamb
45902
Points
Little Lamb 10/11/13 - 11:30 am
3
2
Grown Child

internationallyunknown posted:

The child was also found . . . .

I am sad for the untimely death. And I have sympathy for the family's grief, though not for playing the race card. When I read internationallyunknown's post I got to thinking about the past. It was not too long ago in America when a 17-year-old male would have bristled if you were to call him a child. Boys had to grow up fast on the farm, in the factories, on the frontier, etc. Now, we coddle our offspring and do not expect them to be responsible for their behavior at an early age. We do not serve them well when we do that.

Little Lamb
45902
Points
Little Lamb 10/11/13 - 11:35 am
1
2
Organs

I agree, Jake. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by placing removed organs back into a cadaver for burial. In fact, it would be counterproductive. When the mortician embalms a body, he wants it to be as free of unnecessary fluids (or fluid-generating organs) as it can.

There is something very, very fishy about the GBI spokeswoman's statement:

GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said Thursday that the agency’s policy is to return all organs to bodies after autopsies. That’s what happened in Johnson’s case, she said.

There is absolutely no way Spokeswoman Lang can swear to that statement. She only knows what someone told her, and that unidentified someone could be covering up.

internationallyunknown
4210
Points
internationallyunknown 10/11/13 - 11:38 am
2
4
The South

Speaking as someone raised in the South, these types of scandals can often be answered by looking at local family trees, so was the sports coach or high school principal related to the local sheriff? ME? etc. Somewhere in all of this there are inevitably cousins covering for cousins. If you don't buy that, then you are left with the answer of complete incompetence or malice, which are often the default settings in the deep South where matters of race are involved.

internationallyunknown
4210
Points
internationallyunknown 10/11/13 - 11:49 am
1
1
"Kendrick Johnson was just 17

"Kendrick Johnson was just 17 years old when he died, and from the start, many questioned the circumstances surrounding his death, noting that the chances of someone getting caught in a wrestling mat accidentally are highly unlikely. With massive amounts of blood found around Johnson, as well as blood stains on the wall that investigators discovered were not his, the signs pointed to foul play from the start."

internationallyunknown
4210
Points
internationallyunknown 10/11/13 - 11:53 am
3
0
"New pictures from the

"New pictures from the Kendrick Johnson death case shows that the death was likely the result of “foul play,” according to an investigator.

A 15 minute video and nearly 700 photos taken by investigators in Lowndes County, Georgia show Johnson wedged into a rolled-up wrestling mat. His face is bloated with pooled blood, and there were streaks of blood on a nearby wall, reported CNN.

Investigators left some potential evidence at the gym, including one hoe and a hooded sweatshirt.

Harold Copus, an Atlanta private investigator and a former FBI agent, says he’s not sure how the crime scene was handled.

“If you’re running a crime scene, then you’re going to say ‘That’s potential evidence. Obviously, we’re going to check this out and find out who does it belong to,’ ” he said.

“I don’t believe this was an accident. I think this young man met with foul play.”

internationallyunknown
4210
Points
internationallyunknown 10/11/13 - 12:03 pm
1
0
"So this morning Kenneth

"So this morning Kenneth Johnson stood on the steps and stared into cameras, while his wife, Jackie, stood behind him and cried. “Today is Kendrick’s 18th birthday,” Kenneth said. “I want to say to the school, to the sheriff’s department — let’s give him a good present today. Give us the videotape.”

It’s unlikely to be easy. The Johnsons not only believe their son was murdered. They also believe authorities have colluded to cover up the circumstances surrounding his death. “A conspiracy doesn’t have to mean backroom meetings at 3 a.m.,” said King. “If a number of people’s interests all happen to align in the same way, and that results in the truth being concealed — that’s a conspiracy.”

Darby
25595
Points
Darby 10/11/13 - 12:14 pm
5
4
Does EVERYTHING have to be...

... a conspiracy?

If the trauma to the neck is though to be "non-accidental" then investigate his death as manslaughter or murder. Bring the guilty person or persons to justice.

The use of newspaper rather than a more "acceptable" material to fill the body cavity is a non-starter.

Let it go for crying out loud.

And why cloud the issue with echoes of Trayvon Martin?

allhans
23641
Points
allhans 10/11/13 - 12:36 pm
2
3
Looks like a question for the

Looks like a question for the funeral home. Why bring others in and add to the confusion.

fishman960
1446
Points
fishman960 10/11/13 - 02:29 pm
2
0
Accuracy

Too much speculation going on for there to be an accurate explanation. Let the facts speak for themselves.

Sweet son
10389
Points
Sweet son 10/11/13 - 02:40 pm
0
0
The only reason to replace organs in a corpse is in a case such

as this! That is the only reason! They are usually with the body in a plastic bag with the corpse when they leave the crime lab. A reputable funeral home may fill the cavity with filler to make the body presentable for viewing at a funeral. Then just before the casket is closed for good the plastic bag containing the internal organ is replaced in the foot of the casket for burial with the body! So, if the body is exhumed for further examination then ever part is there.

Darby
25595
Points
Darby 10/11/13 - 03:23 pm
4
2
......you are left with the answer of complete incompetence

or malice, which are often the default settings in the deep South where matters of race are involved.

Not buying the "racist South" BS. It's just about been worn to the point of exhaustion.

InChristLove
22473
Points
InChristLove 10/11/13 - 06:30 pm
2
1
"as well as blood stains on

"as well as blood stains on the wall that investigators discovered were not his,'

I can not find the report I read earlier pertaining to this but a female student stated she had injured herself prior to this and the blood on the wall belonged to her. If the blood wasn't Johnson's then why keep bringing the fact up that there was blood on the wall. It had nothing to do with this case but I guess it's good fodder to keep the pot stirred.

I feel for these parents and there is some question about why things were handled the way they were but deal with facts and not speculations.

Pops
8355
Points
Pops 10/11/13 - 07:21 pm
2
0
Tell us

Internationally unknown......who did this????

Darby
25595
Points
Darby 10/12/13 - 01:00 am
2
1
Well, I see that two (2) thumbs down trolls are hung up

on the concept of a "racist" South and three (3) are still smarting over Zimmerman getting a fair trial.

Nice to have the close-minded bigots hanging in there tenaciously to the bitter end.

myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 10/12/13 - 06:48 am
0
2
Bodhisattva

You do realize we are talking about organs being sold on the BLACK MARKET??? Last time I checked, I don't think refunds are being given when you purchase something on the black market that doesn't work. I don't think anyone is going to call the police and say "Hey, I purchased this liver on the black market and it doesn't work, now they won't give me a refund."

So, let me clarify; people are selling NON-functional organs on the black market as well!! By the time they find out they don't work, its too late; they've already paid thousands of dollars for the organ.

Now, I'm certainly NOT saying this is what happened in this case. Just giving a possibility for the organs being missing. When people are out here drugging people and stealing their organs, you don't think it's possible someone would sell a non-functional organ on the black market? We could speculate all day about what happened, but we won't know until the investigation is complete.

myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 10/12/13 - 06:52 am
1
1
Internationallyunknown

You bring up decent points about the investigation; which is good. There certainly are many questions that need to be answered. But you do yourself and your point no favors by introducing race into the equation, without the slightest shred of evidence. People are tired of hearing the race card played, whenever a black person is killed. It's the classic "Screaming wolf" effect, when there is no wolf.

Once you scream wolf so many times, when there is no wolf, people will pay it no attention anymore. THEN, when there is a wolf; you've done more damage than good, because people won't pay attention. Make your points, but leave race out of it, until evidence points in that direction, then it's the appropriate time.

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