Sergeant Michael Adams was working the day shift on January 11, 2013 at the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department when, at 7:45 AM, he received Jacquelyn Johnson's missing person's report that her son Kendrick was missing.
Acting quickly, Adams drove over to the Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Georgia. When he got there, he asked the school secretary to call Kendrick's first block teacher to verify his absence. Once that was confirmed, Adams began to print color pictures of Kendrick for distribution.
While he was doing that, the principal's secretary told him that a mother wanted to meet with him, in reference to her missing son. When he arrived at the principal's office, Adams found Jackie and her daughter Kenyatta, Kendrick's sister, waiting to meet with him. One of the first things Adams wanted to know was if Kendrick had any girlfriends.
That was logical. Maybe he had a girlfriend and had stayed over at her place?
"They both stated that he does not have any girlfriends and that he does not particularly hang around with any sole person," Adams later informed his superiors.
Neither mother nor sister could give him any leads. Adams soon returned to headquarters, trying to figure out what had happened to the missing boy.
Back in the school's gym, Coach Philip Pieplow's "Life Sports" class was then in progress. Vicki Darnell* and her sister Emily were tired, so they climbed up on the wrestling mats that were rolled up in the corner to lie down. After being up there for a few minutes, Vicki looked down, into one of the mats, and saw feet with socks on them. She figured someone was playing a joke. She asked her sister Emily to take a look.
"Help," Emily yelled, "help!"
John Clendenon, who was in the class and nearby, came over, climbed the bleachers, followed Emily and Vicki over to the mat in question, looked inside, then summoned Mr. Pieplow to come over. Pieplow climbed on top of the mats. He and Clendenon tried to free the person from the top.
When their efforts failed, they began to move the mats aside, then lowered the one with the person inside it. With an unobstructed view, Pieplow looked inside.
Students were staring. A girl screamed.
"That was a dead body!"
Upset, Peiplow was having a hard time speaking, but he was able to tell the students to leave.
Shortly before 10:30 AM, the sheriff's office received a "911" cell phone call from John Clendenon, the student who had discovered a body. The dispatcher relayed the information to Sgt. Adams, that a "code blue" had been received from the old gym at Lowndes High School.
"Code blue" means someone is not breathing. Racing to his squad car, Adams hit the siren and accelerator and made it to the school within minutes. When he got there, it was pandemonium. He saw students running out of the gym
"That was a dead body!" one of them screamed
Approaching the southwest corner of the gym, he detected what he later described as, "a mild odor of a corpse." It is a primeval, unmistakable smell.
Decomposition begins as soon as a person dies. Temperature and humidity accelerate the process. The previous day, when KJ had gone missing, the temperature had been 73 degrees Farenheit, only four degrees lower than the record high of 77 in 2008. In addition, the average humidity was close to 100%. Factoring in those two factors, plus his body being rolled up tight, decomposition accelerated faster than usual, producing the odor and smell.
Philip Pieplow was still bending over the immobile figure in the mat.
"I don't think anybody can help him," Peiplow said quietly.
Two, white socked feet were sticking out of the blue mat. Sticking out of the other end, "I observed a black male, exposed down to his rib cage. The facial area was severely disfigured and swollen. The only identifying feature to the victim that I observed was the long dreadlocks," Adams related to his superiors.
Sheriff Chris Prine, who would later state that Kendrick's death was accidental -- specifically positional suffocation -- has never bothered to explain how Kendrick's face got so disfigured. Prine was unavailable for comment.
Sometime after Adams got to the scene, Detective Jack Priddy arrived. The two conferred and Adams told Priddy that the victim, who was unresponsive, was Kendrick Johnson. And that he was deceased. Priddy then spoke with Ssgt. Bryce Whitener. The police had noticed the surveillance cameras outside the gym. Priddy was assigned to locate the surveillance video.
With Adams' help, Priddy did locate the video he was seeking. It showed Kendrick entering the gym at approximately 1:09 PM on January 11, but never leaving. But, what else could be on the video?