Published On: Thu, Jan 17th, 2013

Kendrick Johnson, Georgia football player, found dead in gym, rolled up in wrestling mat

Tragedy struck in Valdosta, Georgia when a popular high school football player was found dead, trapped in a rolled-up, tubular wrestling mat in the school’s gymnasium.

UPDATE: Kendrick’s parents continue to speak out and seek answers – more here

Kendrick JohnsonKendrick Johnson, a sophomore at Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes High, was discovered dead in the school’s gymnasium. He was found trapped inside a wrestling or cheerleading mat, though no one knows precisely how he got there.

Initial autopsy results led officials to proclaim that the teen’s tragic death was an accident, possibly caused by a piece of clothing falling inside the rolled mats and Johnson failing to make it out of the mats after trying to retrieve it. Yet that explanation hasn’t convinced Johnson’s father, who fears that his son may have been murdered and left in the rolled mats to be discovered later.

“He was last seen third block going to fourth block, he was seen no more,” Kenneth Johnson told WALB. “Then again, I want to express how did my son go missing during school hours in broad daylight? We know our son was murdered while he was at Lowndes High School. We do know that.”

Johnson’s death sent a major shock wave through the small Georgia city, regardless of cause. Family members and others from the community held a vigil for the teen’s memory on Wednesday.

“How can you go on when you have a beloved child who wakes up everybody in the house and makes a laugh out of everything, how can you go on? It’s hard.”

About the Author

- Roxanne "Butter" Bracco is the Pittsburgh Correspondent, but will be providing reporting, insights and interviews for the Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia regions. Contact Roxie aka "Butter" at theglobaldispatch@gmail ATTN: Roxie or Butter Bracco

Displaying 51 Comments
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  1. […] death of their healthy teenager has haunted the family still seeking answers after he reportedly “slipped into a rolled up wrestling mat” and died. The police and school appeared to […]

  2. […] Johnson, age 17, was found dead inside a rolled up wrestling mat in the gymnasium of Lowndes High School in Valdosta, where he was a student, on January 11, […]

  3. […] The pursuit of the truth can be a long and difficult journey and for the Johnson family: it’s almost of year of seeking answers surrounding the death of their teenage son, who was found dead in his high school’s gym, wrapped up inside of a wrestling mat. […]

  4. […] In a new CNN analysis more questions are being raised surrounding the death of Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead in a rolled up wrestling mat in his school’s gym. […]

  5. dyshunti says:

    i can’t believe what peopl did to him because he use to hang with my sister and my step familt down the street from me sorry for your son die at lowdes high school.

  6. Erin says:

    This entire case has been handeled terribly from moment one when the body was discovered & certain items of evidence were simply not analyzed or taken into account. The inconsistencies,
    and poor investigating , points to foul play. The kid’s shoes looked like they were set in there next to kendrick after he’d Fallen in. So what sneaker was he reaching for?



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  9. Nonononono. I used to wrestle. It took a bunch of us to roll the wrestling mats up everyday. It’s IMPOSSIBLE for someone to get rolled up without us knowing they were in the mats. Unless I’m missing something here, there is no f***ng way this was an accident.

  10. […] 17-year-old was found dead inside a rolled up gym mat at Lowndes High School in […]

  11. Your Name... says:

    I believe this is not foul play and something in the milj aint clean

  12. […] after the dead of a Georgia teen, found in some mats in the school’s gym, the family learns that the official cause of death is “accident as a result of postitional […]

  13. Jenny says:

    Let’s call in the NAACP and make this a race issue when we werent sure it was before! If something wasn’t done to our liking, let’s make it about race! Let’s make racial tensions in this country worse! Instead of focusing on Kendrick as a PERSON, like he deserves, let’s focus mainly on his RACE. We are humans. Do not make everything about race… There is more to us than our race!

  14. Stephanie says:

    Really? Johnson Family I’m standing in the gap in prayer for your family that the truth comes forth clean and clear in Jesus Name.

    This is Valdosta, Ga in 2013. What is going on in Valdosta, GA????
    The Police, have a job to do. Do your job. The School Staff have a job to do. Do your jobs. Any student that knows what happened at that gym, has a responsibility to themselves, and to Kendrick and his family to tell the truth about what happened.
    I pray and speak peace over this family as they go through these trying times.

  15. your name says:

    who walks on mats in the unused gym with no one around. i was on a wreslting team ive rolled the matts up, it takes about 6 or more people to roll them up tight enoungh for someone to get stuck in.some people roll them up tight some people leave them loose we rolled them up tight to save room. ok so where was the gym teacher what class should he have been in who else cut class that block? how were the other matts rolled up? what kinda shoe was it how tight were his other laces. what was his shoe untied. i guess people down south are retarded if that was my kid there would be problems and i would be at the crime scene…. flippin f out did you see that boys face if he did get stuck in the mat how would he hitt the ground so hard if he was stuck in there wouldnt it be a tight fit. where is the detective maybe he needs to go back to school like wtf and if my kid was in that school i would never let him go back if this is how they keep an eye on them

    • karen says:

      i agree on all angles it sounds like a bunch of bs sounds like a cover up and a bunch of carelessness and sorry police work! i hope the parent’s stay on those people hard until they get real answers! something just doesn’t smell right !

      • logan says:

        kendrick was my best friend… the cops are soooooo covering something up we will get justice for my kj and we will not stop until we get it!!!!!!!!!!! -logan<3

        • Your Name... says:

          If you know something did you tell the police? Hundreds of students were interviewed! If some students has done it someone would have talked! School,police,students,coroner,gbi are all covering it up under your flawed scenario

    • Your Name... says:

      You damn right Amen!

    • My NAME says:

      I totally agree with you. Down south animals will not qualify for no kind of job outside of the south. They are idiots. Where are the damn school cameras? They know something. Interrogate!!!

    • logan says:

      kendrick was my best friend … we are doing everything we can and we WILL get justice.. his mother has done everything she could at the crime seen so please just watch what u say about “us southern folks” thanks -logan<3

  16. Forensics101 says:

    According to the reports I’ve read, the mat was upright. Therefore, he didn’t have to roll himself up into the mat. It’s possible that he fell. Now let’s look at the alternative theories. Theory B – If he was thrown into the mat, there would likely be signs of foul play. According to the family, he could not fit into the mat. So according to the family, theory A and B aren’t feasible. That leaves Theory C. If he was put into the mat and then the mat was rolled up, there would be signs of a struggle (marks, bruises, etc.). This kid was a football player. It would have taken at least 4 strong kids, maybe 5 to hold this kid down and roll the mat. There would have been screaming and fighting. Somebody would have heard him. Someone would have witnessed this.

    • tmathis7 says:

      This is a very sad and disturbing case from all angles. It creates anger and other emotions. I can appreciate your approach to this case. However, using what you refer to as Theory B-could it not be possible that he was beaten unconscious or to death then rolled up in the mat? Yes he was a football player and probably pretty strong, but athletic isn’t superhman. A group of jealous or hateful students could have suprised attacked him. Theory D- this was the result of a prank gone horribly wrong or some sort of jock hazing that got out of hand. Those wrestling mats are huge and heavy. When I was a student it took like 3-5 students working together. More than once 1 would fall over on the mat and jokingly we would keep rolling.One time a student fell in the semi-rolled mat and some of the other students started kicking and punching at him through the mat. Then it became a stupid game where one guy would get rolled in while others punched & kicked as hard as they could. I can only guess that the mat prevented the punches from hurting too bad, bt there were bruises and a bloody nose. Still, this was mostly when we were not adequately supervised.Just some thoughts.

    • My name says:

      If he couldn’t fit in the mat, then why in the hell would he force himself unless he wanted to kill himself. If he fell in the mat, the mat would have unrolled. Someone or something had to force the mat close.

  17. kaylo says:

    Its bs all highschool s have cameras throughout the school they know what happened ask them to get the video footage….r.i.p tj i believe they will find the truth my prayers go put to you and your family

  18. amy mccolgan says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with the johnson family! I don’t know them or there son but being a mother of 2 o cant imagine! Im so sorry for your loss! I hope they find answers soon and you and your son can rest!

  19. amy mccolgan says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with the johnson family! I don’t knowthem or there son but being a mother of 2 o cant imagine! Im so sorry fo

  20. BARBARA says:


  21. […] bizarre death of Kendrick Johnson, a healthy teenage high school football, continues to baffle those who hear the story, but even […]

  22. Gabriana says:

    maybe its just me but this story makes like no sense to me at all….. sounds made up

  23. Audri says:

    Im from Lowndes…went to Valdosta high and it pains me to think that they thought the parents were going to be stupid enough to believe that BS! Anyone that has been a cheerleader or wrestler knows that those mats are rolled up by two or more ppl…no way he rolled himself or fell into the mats and suffocated…they cant be rolled that tight! I cant believe Lowndes School system realy thought that was going to fly! Someone died! I am proud of my city for joining together and fighting for justice for Kendric and his family! My prayers are with them!

    • gbrhynes says:

      Just another death that could have been forgotten had it not been for strong family ties:

    • Diamond J. says:

      I’ve cheered in high school and all star almost my whole life. 1 person CAN roll a up mat. I’ve done it many times. You can’t roll yourself up in a mat, but someobe else can. Those mats can also be rolled very tight or very loose. Anyway, at my high school we always had a problem with people sitting on our mats during gym. Anyone can easily fall into those holes. I have purposely jumped down those hole for fun, but it can be scary. Unless you are Incredible Hulk, the only way to get out is if someone tips the mat over. Reaching into a mat head first is a big mistake and if he did do that, he indeed would have gotten stuck and suffocated. Especially if he didn’t have both hands in front of him to break his fall. I can understand the pain and disbelief from his family, but they need to understand that this situation could have happened. Def not bs.

      • Moody says:

        Diamond one person cannot roll up a wrestling mat have you seen this mat? You are being unrealistic and the only one that seems to believe this Bullshit ass story. Read the other stories and see that coroners believe foul play and are not getting help from the sheriffs office. Did you see the after pictures? Those are the photos of a beaten boy not one that suffocated. This is definitely a cover up and you need to do a little more reasearch before ocmmenting again. PS A skinny cheeleader rolling up the mat on her own….yeah right!!!!!!!!!

        • bulldog says:

          Do you have reading comprehension? Diamond said she went down in a mat feet first and it was claustrphobic! If he fell head first it would be a terible feeling. Diamond is proof one could fall inside

      • tmathis7 says:

        Evidently those mats come in varying sizes and weights because I have never seen 1 student successfully roll one up. They are too wide and heavy and usually require for someone at each end, and even then they may have to unroll a little and readjust to get it wrapped around itself. I am not saying that you haven’t done so solo, just that I (and many others) have never seen it done. That being said, reportedly the mat was already rolled, and standing upright, so how in the world did his shoe get inside?
        I’m not sure of his height but those mats can be pretty tall when upright.Students would throw other students’ items in the holes of the rolled mats, and we would have to unroll the whole thing to retrieve them, but this was purposely done-nothing ever accidently fell inside.
        Still, where were the other students or teachers? As reported, this story makes no sense. Even if you accept that his shoe fell in, he tried to retreive it, got stuck and suffocated-the school started the cover-up then were helped by the actions of the police.
        Questions-None of his teachers missed him from class, why was the gym unlocked, why was a student in the gym unsupervised. His parents reported him missing-last seen at school which is where the search should have began. Then,a student is found dead at school-surely the procedure involves immediately contacting paramedics and the coroner.
        The school calls 911, paramedics and police arrive,child is pronounced deceased, coroner and parents notified.
        By the way, what do yo make of the pictures? I am in no way an expert, but to me it looks like he was beaten..or maybe the authorities can blame that on football injuries.
        Maybe some type of forensic recreation will prove/disprove their theory. Accident or foul play; cover up or bad decision; regardless, as you stated this has to be painful for the family and I hope that they get answers. They deserve at least that, as does any parent.

      • MissTy says:

        Why did you end with “…they[the parents]need to understand that this situation could have happened.” but begin with,”You can’t roll yourself up in a mat, but someobe else can.”?
        When you were jumping into and rolling up the mats, were you alone?
        Even if the events occurred as only the sheriff theorized, another student or teacher should have seen or heard something.Also,why is this sheriff declaring a death accidental and sending evidence to the GBI? I thought that these fell under the coroner’s duties.

  24. I pray the family stays on the police because something is wrong with the story. First and foremost there are too many version of this story first he was seen going to the 4th block and then disappeared. Well who seen him going to the 4th block and why no one heard him scream if he was caught up in the mat? Is the mat hand rolled or machine either way they should of heard his screams for help or was he killed somewhere else in the school and rolled up in the mat.

  25. MATHIS says:


  26. I’m like the family. I have played on these type mats straight thru school. Rolled up and upright if I person hop on top it’s going to tilt, if u try and roll yourself, u can’t upside down or laying down, and if u are rolled up u can come out without trouble unless someone is holding u in. They will have to tell me something. If he dropped something he could have easily lifted a side of the mat and got his clothing. It just don’t sound right and like something is being hid.

  27. sandra says:

    How on earth can a child go missing in school and noone notice he didn’t roll hisself up in that mat that young man murdered and now the school is trying to cover it up.What the hell is going on in our school who is watching out for our kids these days

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