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Georgia sheriff offers $500K of his own money in case of teen found dead in gym mat

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk recently announced there would be no charges in the case of Kendrick Johnson, 17, who was found in 2013 in a rolled-up gym mat.

A Georgia sheriff who recently closed the case of a 17-year-student who was found dead in 2013 in a rolled-up gym mat announced Monday he is offering $500,000 of his own money to anyone who has information that leads to an arrest or conviction.

Last month, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk released a 16-page document concluding that Kendrick Johnson's death was an accident and no charges would be filed.

Johnson's family said they believe the teen was murdered and that his death was covered-up.

“After the release of my synopsis of the Federal files on the Kendrick Johnson case, his parents have called me a liar and continue to state that Kendrick was murdered," Paulk said in a news release Monday.

"Because of these statements, I am personally — with my own funds — offering a reward of one-half million dollars ($500,000.00) to anyone who comes forward with information that results in the arrest and conviction of a person for the alleged murder of Kendrick Johnson at Lowndes High School."

Johnson's body was found in a wrestling mat Jan. 11, 2013, in the high school's gym in Valdosta, Georgia. The report said his body was head-down in a rolled-up mat that was positioned vertically. His feet were visible from the top of the mat, the report said.

State and local law enforcement officials ruled the death an accidental asphyxiation, saying Johnson died after he climbed into the mat to retrieve his sneakers.

Image: Kendrick Johnson
Kendrick Johnson's body was found upside down in a rolled-up wrestling mat at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia, on Jan. 11, 2013. Investigators ruled his death an accident.Courtesy Johnson family

The sheriff said Tuesday that while tragic, Johnson's death was just a "weird accident." Paulk said that he and two detectives pored over about 17 boxes of files for a year before releasing the report.

The half-a-million-dollar reward is "one last avenue" for any information the sheriff's office may not be aware of, he said.

"I’m willing to put up those funds to see if anybody comes forward with anything viable that might have been missed," Paulk told NBC News on Tuesday.

"I don’t really feel like there’s anybody out there with knowledge and from what I’ve seen — I studied all the camera angles and everything else — it was a tragic accident. But if somebody comes in with a different view we’re going to listen to them certainly."

Paulk said he has not received any viable tips since announcing the reward. The Johnson family and their attorney could not immediately be reached on Tuesday.

“I’ve looked at everything I can look at. If there’s something else that somebody knows and doesn’t feel like we looked at or studied, come sit down with us," the sheriff said.

The files that Paulk released last month in his final report included in material from the Justice Department, the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. attorney’s office for Middle Georgia and several other law enforcement agencies.

They also included federal grand jury testimony from 58 people, as well as additional autopsies by a doctor hired by the Johnson family and the Defense Department.