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Family: Team hadn't left when teen went missing

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(Johnson Family)

VALDOSTA, Ga. – The mother and father of the teen found dead in a gym mat in January 2013 publicly appealed to the parents of 25 former and current Lowndes High School students on Tuesday, asking for their help.

Speaking through their attorney, Jackie and Kenneth Johnson said they had learned the school's wrestling team had not left campus for a tournament the afternoon their son went missing, as previously thought.

Instead, school officials excused 25 Lowndes High students from class about four and a half hours before the chartered bus left the school parking lot headed to Macon, they said.

"We are asking you to talk to your children to urge them, if they saw something, to say something," said family lawyer Chevene B. King Jr. on the Johnsons' behalf during a Tuesday news conference. "If they heard something, please have them share it with the U.S. Attorney's Office."

With the Johnsons looking on, King pointed to a poster-sized copy of an attendance record showing that Lowndes High officials released the tournament-bound athletes and others from class starting at about 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2013.

He also referenced a school bus travel log that confirmed 4 p.m. as the departure time of bus driver William P. White, 66, who drove wrestling team coach Spencer Graybeal, his wife, Jennifer, a Lowndes High teacher, two other adults and the 25 students on the two-and-a-half hour, 150-mile trip to Macon.

The document was secured from the school board under the Open Records Act, and suggested the group left nearly three hours after Kendrick Johnson was last seen on school surveillance video at 1:09 p.m., King said. Johnson's body was found the next morning.

King said the departure time was important, partially because of misinformation widely reported by the media based on the investigative file.

He shared an excerpt from a Nov. 5 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article by Christian Boone, who reported, "… on the morning of Jan. 10, (student) traveled with the Lowndes wrestling team to a tournament in Macon, 152 miles away."

King also referred to a two-and-a-half-minute video his investigative team produced after working more than a year on the case. He said their findings might be helpful to the parents of the wrestlers, give them some context and assist their children in recalling what happened that afternoon.