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A story about a dead 17-year old boy in Georgia is now gaining momentum on the Internet. According to an independent iReport, Kendrick Johnson was found dead after being rolled up in a mat at his local high school. The story says that local authorities are ruling the boy’s death to be an accident, but that doesn’t add up for the family. In spite of starting off as a viral iReport, some mainstream media outlets are starting to pick up on the story, and civil rights leaders are starting to get involved.
“Positional asphyxia,” is listed as the cause of death, according to a statement by Lownds County Sheriff, Chris Prine. Kendrick’s aunt, Keisha Moore, believes that there is more to the story than meets the eye.
“We are just hoping that the truth will come out. It’s hard not sleeping at night not knowing,” Moore said.
The information has not been verified by CNN, since iReport allows independent citizens to tell their own stories in their own way. But the questions remain, and as more media become interested in what happened, pressure grows on local police to be more precise in their conclusions. The family is saying that it appears that Kendrick was beaten before he died, and they don’t buy the idea that he accidentally tripped into the mat and got caught (as police are saying).
Dr. Boyce Watkins, who recently helped lead a coalition to get Mountain Dew to drop their endorsement of the rapper Lil Wayne after mocking Emmett Till, says that the imagery in the case is a disturbing reminder of the danger faced by young black men all across America.
“When I saw this image, I saw Emmett,” said Dr. Watkins. “I also see the possibility of serious police corruption, for we cannot consider it to be inconceivable that somebody beat this young man to death. At the very least, the community deserves an independent investigation.”
In January, coroner Bill Watson spoke to the Valdosta Daily Times, stating that ” This was not fair to the decedent, his family, and the citizens of Valdosta and Lowndes County Ga. And it’s wrong as rain”.
The case is starting to draw national attention, as Rev. Al Sharpton headed to the small town this weekend to rally alongside the family. There are many who believe that the boy’s death was not an accident. But despite the pressure, the sheriff is holding onto his original story.
“You can’t make an accident a murder or murder an accident,” said Prine. “The only thing we can do is go by the evidence that was collected at the scene and present it to the medical examiner. Nothing on the body suggested anything other than an accident.”
Prine is remaining steadfast in his claim that his team followed the correct procedure. He also says that he has been trying to help the family get a faster result on the autopsy. But oddly enough, the young man died in January, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty.
“The family was very inquisitive about what our investigation entailed. I advised them it appeared to be an accident,” said Prine. “I told them we wouldn’t know for sure until an autopsy could be done. And we’ve asked numerous times if [the GBI] would put a rush on this report for the sake of both the family and the public.”
One game changer in the investigation is the family’s ability to obtain a picture of their son’s face after he died. This is not standard protocol, and the Sheriff’s office has no idea how the picture got into the hands of the family. But the image has gone viral in social media, spreading like wildfire.
“I don’t know where they got the picture,” said Prine. “The photo should not have been taken and presented like it was, because it leaves the citizen and family in doubt due to how awful he looked. It was a horrible death, whether it was an accident or murder. My prayers go out to the family. We’ve done everything we know to do.”
Civil Rights Attorney CB King is representing the family and says that there is no excuse for this kind of tragedy to happen on school grounds. He also says that the Sheriff’s office owes the community the truth, and not just contrived information.
“How many people send their kids to school expecting that they won’t come home while under the supervision of school officials, all of those school officials and the millions of dollars that are represented by that organization,” said King. “The community deserves an investigation that not only goes at the truth of what occurred, but arms the community with the knowledge to prevent something like this from happening again.”
The family has made a formal request to United States Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an independent investigation.
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