ATLANTA (Reuters) - The parents of a Georgia teenager whose body was found in a rolled-up wrestling mat in his school gym are suing school officials for failing to stop bullying by classmates who may have beaten their son to death, their attorney said on Tuesday.
Kendrick Johnson’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in order to subpoena witnesses and investigate the 17-year-old’s death. They refuse to believe an official autopsy concluding their son accidentally suffocated last year after falling into an upright rolled-up wrestling mat while retrieving a tennis shoe.
The death of the black teenager has drawn wide attention due to its unusual circumstances and charges of racism. Johnson’s parents say their son was harassed by a white classmate before his death.
The lawsuit, filed on Monday, claims the Lowndes County school system in south Georgia failed to investigate assaults and harassment that ultimately escalated and led to his death.
“The focus has been placed on one or more of these kids,” said the family’s attorney, Chevene King, adding that he cannot prove that a fellow student killed the teenager.
A Lowndes County school spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment.
Suspecting foul play, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson hired a private pathologist who found their son’s death was caused by a bodily blow. The teen’s father said he believes his son’s body was placed inside the wrestling mat to cover up his murder.
An investigation into the death, opened last year by U.S. Attorney Michael Moore for Georgia’s Middle District, is still pending, said a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor.
The death is being treated as accidental and not a homicide, said Brad Shealy, chief assistant district attorney for Lowndes County.
Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh