Dead Teen’s Organs Were Replaced With Newspaper, But Authorities Say NBD


Have you heard about the case of Kendrick Johnson? The Georgia teen went missing in early 2013 and then was found dead inside his high school, wrapped in a wrestling mat. Investigators determined his death was accidental, that he fell head first while reaching for a shoe and somehow became trapped inside the mat, then asphyxiated. But his parents and quite a few other people suspect that there’s more to the case, especially considering that a second autopsy recently revealed several of his organs had been replaced with newspaper.

Kendrick’s parents allege that he was murdered. A private pathologist they hired determined his death was caused by blunt force trauma to the neck. After exhuming his body for a second autopsy, the family and medical examiners realized that a few of his organs were missing. After an investigation, Georgia state officials say the funeral home that replaced Kendrick’s organs with rolled up newspaper did not break any laws. Apparently, replacing missing organs with materials like cotton, newspaper, or sawdust is standard practice. Not “best practice,” according to the Georgia Board of Funeral Service, but not illegal. Wow. Seriously? I had no idea.

It’s not 100% clear to me whether the organs were removed for the previous autopsy (and then…misplaced?) or whether the replacement of organs with newspaper is somehow connected to the possible foul play in this case. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations say the organs were returned to the body after the first autopsy, but the attorney for the funeral home said the organs were missing when the home first received the body and that they never received the organs from the coroner.

Either way, I think that replacing any dead person’s organs with newspaper is not only strange, but disrespectful. Even if it’s not an unusual practice, isn’t there a respectful way to let families know that organs were missing? Especially in a case like this, when a seemingly healthy teenager died under suspicious circumstances? I feel like it might have been courteous to let Kendrick’s parents know that last night’s classifieds were being put inside of his body before he went into the ground. Or that, you know, his body was missing several of its organs.

Kendrick’s parents have hired Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who also represents Trayvon Martin‘s parents, and have participated in several rallies to bring attention to Kendrick’s case. US attorney Michael Moore, launched an investigation into his death last October and had said he will get the FBI involved if it’s deemed necessary. I don’t know enough the facts of the case to say for sure, but with a body stuffed full of newspapers, video footage that’s missing several crucial hours and the results of that second autopsy, I hope that the FBI does get involved. Something’s definitely fishy here.

Photo: Justice For Kendrick Johnson Facebook

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  • Abbe

    I’ve been following this case for awhile and there is definitely something fishy going on. There was even blood on the gym wall that they didn’t test because they thought it had been there for awhile. Why wouldn’t you test it anyway? What kind of school leaves blood on the wall? I really hope this family gets some answers soon.

    • Maria Guido

      Me too. This whole situation is not only tragic – it’s infuriating.

    • Anna

      What?! That is horrifying.

    • Muggle

      What the fuck? That is absolutely disgusting. I know at my school any blood would have been cleaned up immediately. That’s just horrifyingly gross.

  • Kay_Sue

    The most plausible explanation is that the coroner blew it and lost the organs, then the funeral home replaced them because it is their job to make the body look natural (I imagine that missing organs would cause the body to sag in places). This isn’t illegal because it’s kind of useful in other scenarios–if a lung of an accident victim is crushed or has collapsed, being able to plump it up means the family can have a more natural looking service. This does seem like something that should have been discussed with the family.

    I do think the rest is entirely suspicious, and I hope his family finds some answers. The entire investigation to date has seemed to be one folly after another.

  • 502 Bad Gateway

    I dunno if I can stomach reading the NY Times.

  • Sara610

    He fell and hit his head hard enough to inflict a fatal wound while reaching for a shoe, then somehow got himself tangled in a gym mat and suffocated?

    That seems…….extremely implausible.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Yeah, that sounds like bad a slap stick bit, not a plausible reason for death.

  • Muggle

    Oh my god it is SO obvious there’s a cover-up going on. Yeah, okay, a kid being smacked in the head/neck so hard he fucking died, then he was wrapped up in a gym mat? “accidental” my pasty ass. Video footage missing? Woopsy-daisy!

    Is it possible that his organs could have been donated? If he had a driver’s license, then he could have signed up to be a donor in the case of his death. Yes, teenagers under 18 can sign up for this (at least in NC and VA, as long as they have a full driver’s license).

    Has anyone asked his friends? Any teammates? Neighbors? It’s obvious someone had it in for him. If any of this is an accident, at all, it’s a perfect storm of gross negligence and incompetence. And I’m having a hard time believing that’s possible.

    • CrazyLogic

      Organs can’t be donated after a certain amount of time. If they don’t have any blood flow to them, they become useless, and sounds like he was dead for a while before he was found.

      So I doubt there is a chance his organs were donated unless they were harvested right after his death by a possible murderer.

    • Muggle

      Yeah the more I think about the theory the less plausible it seems. I was just wondering though, if he wasn’t dead for that long, and if he never told his parents about being a donor, that could explain his missing organs.

      If that’s not the case… how the fuck do organs just go missing?! Again, if it’s not a cover-up, it’s just a perfect storm of negligence and incompetence. I don’t even know why someone won’t fess up. Someone wanted him gone.

    • Benwhoski

      In fairness, the perfect storm of negligence and incompetence may be what’s being covered up. For example, it really *was* an accident, but an accident in which the school district or specific school officials could be liable, and the school then needed to make it look like a “freak accident” that nobody could have predicted.

    • Muggle

      But the level of incompetence that’s been revealed already is unbelievable. I can’t believe so many people would be THIS stupid.

  • Benwhoski

    Somehow I was completely unaware of this case, and I’m just horrified. Having looked into it further after reading this, there’s no way that there isn’t a cover-up here. How else could the investigators be all “Eh, this blood on the wall looks like it’s been here a while, so it’s probably not related and its presence doesn’t seem unusual at all. Also, all of this stuff lying around like a single shoe with reddish stains on it, and this sweatshirt lying near the body is irrelevant and not potential evidence at all”?

    • Kay_Sue

      Yeah, all of the investigative missteps are more news to me than the missing organs, honestly. That’s sadly the most plausible part of the entire ordeal.

  • SmrtGrl86

    Sometimes during autopsy pathologists keep whole organs, tissue blocks etc for evidence and further examination. The organs are also sliced like bread to search for gross deformities and for gathering samples to be examined at a microscopic level. The organs are then put in a plastic bag and placed in the body cavity and are usually treated topically in the bag by the mortician and replaced into the cavity still in the bag and then the skin is sutured shut. There are lots of reasons for organs to be absent upon burial. The newspaper was probably used to absorb leakage and reform natural shape. Not a normally used material but not illegal either, every embalmer has different ways/reasons for doing things. If there is a cover up I highly doubt the funeral home/pathologists have anything to do with it. It’s just a process most people know very little about for various reasons.

  • Rachel Sea

    Why would the funeral director think that the parents wouldn’t have known about missing organs? Whoever lost the organs should have notified them.

    People do not want to know anything about standard funeral home practices, if they did, very few people would ever be embalmed. Donated long bones get replaced with lengths of plastic pipe (if at all), body cavities are stabbed repeatedly so that fluids can be sucked out, and stuffed like plush animals, breasts are stitched and glued so as not to sag into armpits, eyes are replaced with wax or marbles, lids are stapled, and orifices are plugged and glued – it’s gross, but it’s what has to happen to make the dead look pleasant for viewing.

    • SmrtGrl86

      Ummm actually a lot of what you just said is untrue and pretty awful. Coming from a licensed FD. Thanks.

    • Rachel Sea

      Depends on your state. Standards vary across the country.

    • SmrtGrl86

      We all take the same boards for licensure and have the same textbooks. No stitching breast, marbles, staples etc. I’ve seen bodies from several states also. Chemicals vary what you discribe is mutilation. Not common, not legal and not part of a standard embalming anywhere.

      Also replacement if bones and eyes is part of the responsibility of the organ donor network that does the harvest of organs from the given area. Embalmers have nothing to do with that.

    • Rachel Sea

      Maybe not all hospitals use the prosthetics, or not all regions. I know there are alternatives to PVC and wax available if a person is to be cremated, but from what I’ve seen, there is a lot of latitude in burial. A friend of mine died in a car accident some years ago, and one of her eyes was replaced by a wax packed eyecap, and her femur with a length of PVC. A friend who is a funeral director in CA has said that people who donate long bones often don’t have anything in it’s place when they get to her. A family friend had his inner eyelids stapled (I was present for his embalming, due to concerns about mishandling, thanks to the Neptune society having mishandled my grandfather), and the funeral director pierced each organ separately when he embalmed his abdomen, and glued trocar buttons in every opening except his mouth. Maybe it’s not the standard now, maybe they weren’t doing things the right way (not everyone is good at or ethical in their work, that funeral home certainly did a shit job with my friend’s eye) but it is what has been done, and almost certainly what is still being done by some.

    • SmrtGrl86

      Wow I have never heard of punching that many holes in one body, sounds like someone has an OCD issue about trocar holes. I’m sorry your friend looked bad, that is always really upsetting. I have never heard of some of the things you have seen. I’ve always had bone donars arrive with PVC pipes in place. Stapling and eye shut though…I can’t even….also trocar buttons in the places you mentioned…wow…overkill.

    • Rachel Sea

      This conversation has made me do a little more research into embalming, and it sounds plausible that there are some safety benefits to leaving a prosthetic out. If there is no prosthetic, it’s easier to apply cauterant, so there is less risk of fluid seepage.

      It also explains the terrible swelling in my friend’s eye. She died on impact so she should have had none, but pushing pre-embalming fluid would do it.

      It’s interesting how much things change in short years. I researched quite a bit 10 years ago to understand what was within acceptable care standards, and it seems the teaching now is to do much more internal work, make several fewer incisions, and to glue everything, instead of stapling or using steel closures. I imagine the techniques are being refined so that funeral directors are at lower risk of exposure to chemicals and bio-hazards.

  • nikki753

    This whole story has been so terrible. I’ve followed it for quite some time and it just keeps getting worse. First, this athletic kid died and the story they put on the record is pathetic at best. At least create a better coverup. He fell in some gym mats and suffocated in an occupied gym and no one noticed? Then finding his body had been stuffed with newspaper and that the funeral home, even giving them the benefit of the doubt that they did not receive the organs with the body, in a case like this, no one at the home followed up with the coroner and the family to say, “We didn’t get everything. Where is it?” I’m certain the funeral home knew that this was a death where the cause was up for debate. It’s not that big of a town. Then somewhere in there, they finally release the security footage and it has likely been doctored and. Finally, nearly every time CNN or someone else reports on it, the comments sections are full of classist and racist snark to put it lightly.

  • Nancy

    I clicked that link about the missing footage, and there’s a photo of the rolled up mat with his feet sticking out. If he was reaching for his shoe, then why would both of his shoes be up by his feet? This is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever heard, I feel so awful for him and his parents! I really hope they’re able to find out who did this.