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The mother of Mikayla Miller on Wednesday cast doubt on and outright rejected a medical examiner’s ruling that her daughter’s death was a suicide, with supporters offering new details of how the body of the Black 16-year-old was found tied to a tree last month in a Hopkinton park.
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office said Tuesday the state’s medical examiner found that Mikayla took her own life with the cause of death asphyxia by hanging. Prosecutors added though the matter is still under investigation.
Also on Wednesday, Hopkinton police released several files related to the investigation, including recordings of emergency calls reporting and responding to where Mikayla’s body was discovered and the dashboard camera of one of the police cruisers that went to the scene. The release was intended to illustrate the department’s response, recording of, and role in the investigation, according to a press release.
But the release of Mikayla’s death certificate was a long-awaited development in the case that has drawn widespread attention and scrutiny, as her mother and activists have alleged prosecutors have hastily reached conclusions and even ignored the matter until family and supporters mounted a public push for more information — allegations Ryan’s office has vociferously denied.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Calvina Strothers, Mikayla’s mother, said she firmly believes her daughter’s death was a homicide.
“I want to be very clear: That’s the only thing I want out of all this is to find the truth,” Strothers said. “The conclusion that they made yesterday is the conclusion they made the first day they walked into my house.
“There’s no difference, but I know the truth — and it’s not what they say,” she continued. “It’s not their kid. They don’t care. But that is my child, and I will fight tooth and nail and until the day I leave this Earth for the truth of what happened to my daughter.”
Mikayla was found dead on April 18 in a wooded area near 34 West Main St.
The night before, a health app on Mikayla’s cellphone recorded 1,316 steps — roughly the distance from the apartment complex where she lived to the spot where her body was found, Ryan said earlier this month.
But advocates and family members have raised suspicions about what transpired in the hours and moments before Mikayla’s death.
Earlier that night, on April 17, Mikayla was assaulted by five white teenagers, Strothers has said.
According to Ryan, two of the five teenagers — who were “a variety of races” — present that night were involved in the altercation, which Strothers reported to police. Investigators have cellphone and other digital data and witness information that shows none of the teenagers went to the area where Mikayla’s body was ultimately found, Ryan has said.
Strothers said police told her the morning the body was found that her daughter died by suicide and suggested she not go to the media about the incident because then her daughter’s sexuality would be made public. Mikayla was a member of the LGBTQIA community.
Supporters of Mikayla’s family at Wednesday’s press conference listed several aspects of the case where they say the public needs more clarity and where details, they suggested, do not support the finding that Mikayla took her own life.
“There’s no way that Mikayla could have killed herself,” said David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “She was standing up right, not hanging, with a belt tied around her neck, which was tied to a tree that was not tall enough, or sturdy enough, to withstand her body.”
Johns said Mikayla was wearing a tracksuit when she was found, one that did not require a belt, and added the belt did not belong to her or her mother.
“It defies common sense,” said Benjamin Crump, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney now representing Mikayla’s family.
“We want to see what was the basis of their conclusion that it was suicide and whether they investigated what are, we believe, some attendant circumstances,” added Crump, who has also worked with the families of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown.
Law enforcement officials have Strother’s report of the alleged assault from the night before, he noted.
“Essentially what Calvina and the family of Mikayla Miller want to know is was she lynched? And if she was, why aren’t we saying that?” Crump said. “They do not believe she committed suicide, as has been quickly determined by the local officials.”
Activist Monica Cannon Grant, of Violence in Boston, said Mikayla’s advocates were informed that two of the five teenagers present the night before Mikayla’s body was found are allegedly children and grandchildren of current Hopkinton police officers.
A Hopkinton police spokesperson told Boston.com the accusations are “incorrect and false.”
One of the teens present is the grandchild of a Hopkinton police officer who served on the force in the 1970s and died in 2001, the spokesperson said. That connection to law enforcement is the only one among the five teens — no other members of the department have relatives involved in the investigation, he said.
Advocates also alleged Ryan did not reach out to Strothers until 12 days after Mikayla’s death.
Ryan’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Ryan, however, told GBH’s “Greater Boston” earlier this month that authorities had been in contact with a representative for the family “almost daily” and a victim witness advocate from her office got in touch with Strothers on April 19, the day after Mikayla’s body was found.
Before Mikayla’s body was cremated, Violence in Boston paid for a second, independent autopsy, which Cannon Grant confirmed took place but said she did not have the findings available.
“We will follow up on that and get it to the press at an appropriate time, hopefully sooner rather than later,” Crump said.
Mikayla’s family and supporters have also called for an independent, FBI-led investigation into the case.
Hopkinton police on Wednesday released several files related to the investigation into Mikayla’s death.
“Chief (Joseph) Bennett believes the release of records is the prudent course of action given the volume of records requests received and the amount of public commentary already made regarding this case,” a statement from the department reads. “The public should have faith that its municipal police department responded to this tragic circumstance promptly and treated it with due care and consideration. The Police Department also communicated with the District Attorney’s Office to ensure that the release of these records would not adversely affect the ongoing investigation.”
Police clarified that Mikayla’s death initially did not appear on the department’s public-facing daily incident log because those “involving the deaths of children are generally not included in the public log.”
“It is being released at this time, on the advice of counsel, separately from the previously released public log,” the statement reads.
In his own statement, Bennett said he appreciates and understands “the tremendous public interest in this investigation.”
“We all want answers,” he said. “However, our department is at all times bound by the laws of the Commonwealth, and there is much we cannot disclose during an active death investigation. We are today releasing a number of records that have been requested by the public and approved for release.”
Even so, advocates and activists continued to criticize prosecutors and law enforcement for how they have made information public and, at other times, how other files have remained under wraps.
“D.A. Ryan has continuously released information to the press, versus having conversations with this family,” Cannon Grant said.
She acknowledged that Wednesday’s document release included information the family had been seeking for some time “minus some important information.”
“I don’t believe that my daughter committed suicide,” Strothers said. “So that’s not something that I’m even entertaining at all.”
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