LUCEDALE, MS (WLOX) - Grand jury proceedings began Monday in George County, looking at the evidence in the death of high school football star Billey Joe Johnson.
George County officials say in early December, Johnson shot himself after he was stopped for running a red light in Lucedale. Law enforcement records have shown that Johnson had been identified as a suspect in an attempted break-in moments before the traffic stop.
Johnson was a junior running back at George County High was considered a top potential college football recruit.
Since the beginning, Johnson's family has disputed the official ruling that the teen committed suicide that day.
The case has left a racial divide in George County. The NAACP pushed for an independent autopsy which concluded Johnson did not kill himself.
Now, the family has the support of national and local groups as they look for answers. Just before the Grand jury convened, two groups presented District Attorney Tony Lawrence petitions with 25,000 signatures as a message that the nation is watching this case.
The national group "Color for Change" and a local group, "United Hearts," pledge to keep Johnson's death in the public spotlight until the family is satisfied.
"We as a community, as the Benndale community, the Lucedale community, we don't believe what they are telling us. We know there's more than what's being told. We feel that if we present them with our petitions that they would show that we care, and that we care about this case and we care about what's gonna happen," said Johnson's cousin, Trayce Brewer.
"The family is just hurting for answers. And we're not here accusing anybody. We're not here trying to claim that nobody did anything. But if somebody will talk to us and tell us what's happening, then we'll go somewhere else and go sit down. But until then, we aren't going to stop. We're going to fight all the way to the end," said Glenda Perryman with United Heart Community Action Agency.
Grand Jury proceedings are secret, but they will work to answer the question of exactly how Johnson died. District Attorney Tony Lawrence has promised that this investigation will be an "exhaustive search for the truth." Lawrence also emphasized that all cases involving an unnatural death go before a Grand Jury.