Family of Georgia Teen Found Dead Inside Gym Mat in 2013 Hopes for Answers in Reopened Investigation 

Rumors and conspiracies have swirled around the case since 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found dead inside a rolled-up mat in his school's gymnasium

Anyone in Valdosta, Ga., who knew Kendrick Johnson also knew his love of sports.

The 17-year-old Lowndes High School junior played basketball, football and track — and often stayed after school to shoot hoops or catch a game. So when Kendrick didn't return home after school on Jan. 10, 2013, his mom, Jacquelyn, wasn't worried at first.

She checked in with his father to see if he'd been in contact and reached out to other family and friends, but when she discovered no one had heard from him, she quickly filed a missing persons report.

The following day, she went to his school to alert staff he was missing, as well as to check if he'd shown up.

"The counselor hadn't heard," Jacquelyn recalls. "But then the phone rang. A voice was telling her they just found a body in the gym. ... I'm breaking into pieces because I know it's my child."

Kendrick Johnson

It was soon tragically confirmed that Kendrick was dead — students found his sock-covered feet sticking out of the top of a rolled-up wrestling mat, which was standing upright in a corner of the gym.

But that fact turned out to be one of the few certainties in the case. After an investigation and autopsy, authorities ruled Kendrick's death accidental, theorizing he'd fallen into the opening at the center of the rolled up mat — possibly to retrieve a shoe — and became trapped and suffocated.

Kendrick Johnson

His parents didn't understand how that could be possible and hired their own investigators; an independent autopsy concluded Kendrick's body showed signs of blunt force trauma, suggesting he'd been a victim of foul play.

For years, Kendrick's case has been at the center of multiple journalism investigations and documentaries, including the recently released Finding Kendrick Johnson (available on Amazon Prime).

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"There's no conspiracy theories in the film. We don't even know who did it," says the film's director, Jason Pollock. "But these are the facts. These are the facts that are irrefutable that are mostly from the state's own documents."

For more on Kendrick Johnson and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Now, after eight years, multiple reviews by the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Justice, and increased public pressure, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk has reopened the case.

"I'm going to try and dispel all the rumors and accusations," he says. "I just want the truth. That's all I want."

To read more about the case of Kendrick Johnson, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

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