For months, Kendrick's parents have called on authorities to reexamine the circumstances of their son's death, believing someone was trying to cover up his murder.
Kendrick's death was ruled accidental by Lowndes County sheriffs, who said the teen climbed into the mat to reach his shoe, got stuck and suffocated. His parents, suspicious of the investigation, had their own autopsy done, which concluded Kendrick had died from a blow to the neck.
U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Michael Moore said Thursday federal authorities would investigate Kendrick's death.
"I will follow the facts wherever they lead," Moore said, adding he would consider criminal or civil rights charges based on the evidence. "My objective is to discover the truth."
A lawyer for Kendrick's family has raised questions over whether the investigation of the death of a young black man was given short shrift in predominantly-white Lowndes County.
"We're happy that a fresh pair of eyes is starting to look at Kendrick's case," Kendrick's father, Kenneth Johnson, said. "We're just waiting on the truth to really come out."
Kendrick's body was found January 11, stuck inside the rolled-up mat. His face was bloated with blood, which had pooled onto the floor. But within 24 hours, Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine announced that investigators had no reason to suspect foul play.
Prine said he is confident the investigation was handled with "the necessary diligence" but was fully cooperating with the federal investigation.
A private autopsy discovered a blow to the right side of Kendrick's neck "consistent with inflicted injury." In addition, the boy's organs had not been returned to his body after the first autopsy, and instead had been stuffed with newspapers, fueling suspicion of a coverup.
"They know something happened in that gym," Kenneth Johnson said after the private autopsy results were revealed, "and they don't want it to come out."