The parents of two students who went to school with Kendrick Johnson filed a $5 million slander and libel lawsuit against Ebony magazine Wednesday based on a series of articles that accused their two sons of being involved in Johnson’s death.
Johnson, known by his classmates as KJ, is the 17-year-old Lowndes High School student who was found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat in the school’s gym in Valdosta, Georgia, in January 2013.
While the Lowndes County Sheriff’s office ruled the death an accident and closed the investigation in May 2013, Johnson’s family believes authorities are covering up what happened in their son’s death.
An online movement pushing for justice for the teen also suggested the authorities were covering up events around the teen’s death after footage from the school’s cameras conveniently malfunctioned moments before Johnson ended up inside the gym mat.
There has been a lot of speculation about what could have happened to the teen after many people rejected the idea that Johnson crawled inside the mat to retrieve his shoe and suffocated while doing so.
Writer Frederic Rosen featured several articles in the print and digital editions of Ebony that accused Chris and Clark Martin, fictitious aliases given to protect the real students’ identities, of being involved in Johnson’s death.
According to the students’ parents, however, the fake names were not enough.
The lawsuit accuses Ebony of using specific references and details that made it easy for the boys’ classmates to figure out who the article was really talking about.
“In a November 19, 2013 article entitled ‘Tweets From Possible Suspects Raise Eyebrows’, Rosen stated that a white sophomore high school football player fictitiously named Chris Martin, as well as his older brother fictitiously named Clark Martin (a LCHS senior), both sons of a Valdosta FBI agent, were ‘possible suspects’ in KJ’s murder,” the lawsuit states. “[The article] goes on to state that Chris Martin had the motive to murder KJ because of previous fights they had, resulting in a ‘prior animus’ going back at least two years.”
The students’ parents say those specific descriptions have led to their sons being harassed and threatened by their peers.
The students’ family also wants a written retraction from Ebony, but the publication has refused to do so.
Ebony has not responded publicly to the lawsuit as of Monday morning.
According to CNN, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, Michael Moore, launched a federal investigation into Johnson’s death and into the local investigation in October.
The federal investigation is still pending.