Kendrick Johnson's family is waging a public war that few could imagine.
The 17-year-old, who was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat on Jan. 11, has been the center of a very public battle between his parents and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Investigators say the teen suffocated in Valdosta, Ga. while reaching for his sneaker. But that is a conclusion his family won't accept.
Instead, they are demanding officials release video of the Lowndes High School gym from the day Johnson died and that someone find out what happened to the teen's missing organs. So far, only a short clip of the video has been released and no one has tracked down why Johnson's body was stuffed with newspapers before he was buried.
Tuesday, in the latest development in the case, Kendrick's parents petitioned a Georgia judge to order a coroner's inquest into their son's death.
"We are trying to find out what happened and what took place at that school," Kenneth Johnson, the teen's father, told USA TODAY. "The school and the sheriff's department are covering something up and we need to find out who they are covering up for."
Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson have been asking questions since they learned of their son's demise. At first they wondered how a young man who ran track and played basketball and football could suffocate in a mat.
More questions came this summer when Kendrick's body was exhumed for a second autopsy. The private pathologist found that his organs were missing and that newspaper had been used to fill his body. That same pathologist ruled that Kendrick died of non-accidental blunt force trauma.
"This is a real life murder mystery," said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Kendrick's parents and the attorney who helped focus national attention on the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. "If you are trying to get a shoe out of a rolled up mat, where do you get trauma in your head?"
Crump added that several other factors make Kendrick's death suspicious. Police officers likely contaminated the scene after finding the teen's body, Kendrick's clothes from the day he died are missing and the teen's finger nails were cut after death but now those clippings are gone, Crump said.
All this has convinced Kendrick's father of the worst.
"The only thing I can come up with is our son was murdered," Kenneth Johnson said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, however, disagrees. The agency is standing by an autopsy report that found Kendrick died accidentally of "positional asphyxia," said Sherry Lang, its director of public affairs.
"We have complete confidence in the medical examiner," she said.
Positional asphyxia basically means your chest is compressed and you cannot expand your lungs and breathe, said Bill Manion, a forensic pathologist in New Jersey. Such deaths occur when a person is trapped under the weight of a car, earthquake debris or even when a baby gets caught between their crib and mattress.
In Kendrick's case, Manion offered that some teens might have stuffed Kendrick in the gym mat without realizing he could die.
"You would think as a young, strong guy, he would have kicked or screamed," Manion said. "But, he might have panicked, breathed out a lot of carbon dioxide and passed out."
Robert Glatter, an emergency room doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York said when he encounters deaths by positional asphyxia, usually violent struggles, alcohol or drugs are involved.
"Typically you see this among patients who are subdued by police officers and are hog tied," Glatter said. "It's not just a healthy person found down. There is generally something to add to it. Some struggle."
He wondered aloud if Kendric may have fallen under the influence of some substance and had his airway compromised.
Lt. Stryde Jones of the Lowndes County Sheriff Department told USA TODAY his office has closed the case but would consider reopening it if new information was found or an eye witness came forward.
"We conducted a complete and thorough investigation and we stand by the findings of our case," Jones said.
The lieutenant also said lawyers for Kendrick's family can file a court order to obtain video from the day of the teen's death. But, Jones maintains there is little to see on the tape because no camera was pointed in the direction where Kendrick's body was found.
"There is no video of the actual event itself," Jones said. "There is video of Kendrick entering the gym and shortly after there is video of other children entering the gym."
Tuesday, however, lawyers for Kendrick's family claimed otherwise.
There were at least four video cameras in the gym, one of which was aimed toward the corner where Kendrick's body was found, according to Crump.
"There are so many questionable circumstances that beg for a special investigation," Crump said. "The video is going to tell us how Kendrick got into that wrestling mat."
He believes the findings of a coroner's inquest would support the family's belief that Johnson's death was a homicide.
In the meantime, Kendrick's parents remain set on finding out more about his death.
"The nation should care about Kendrick and his case because it can happen time and time again in these schools," Kenneth Johnson said. "We as parents need to put a stop to all the violence."