The death of Black queer teen Mikayla Miller was ruled a suicide by authorities earlier this week, but her mother and LGBTQ advocates are saying that that doesn’t make sense and that police haven’t showed much interest in investigating her death.
On April 18, Miller’s mother Calvina Strothers called the police when a jogger found the teen dead a mile away from home with a belt around her neck that was bound to a tree. This was just a day after Miller was jumped by five white classmates, including one with whom she once had a romantic relationship.
“We will continue to explore every investigative angle necessary as we do that work and intend to issue a complete and thorough report at the conclusion of the investigation,” wrote the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in a statement just after NBC Boston uncovered the death certificate that listed her death as a suicide.
The certificate said that the 16-year-old from Hopkinton, Massachusetts died from asphyxiation, implying that she hung herself from the tree with a belt.
Her mother isn’t buying it. The night before she was found dead, police were called to her apartment after a fight broke out between Miller and her ex-girlfriend. According to police documents, other teens joined in the fight and started beating Miller, including one boy who punched her in the face.
They found planters had been thrown from the apartment and were shattered in the parking lot. The police said that they found probable cause to believe that “assault and battery, disorderly conduct and malicious destruction of property” had occurred.
In a statement, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) – an organization that advocates for Black LGBTQ people – raised questions about deeming Miller’s death a suicide.
“She was found standing upright, with a belt tied around her neck, which was tied to a tree that was neither tall nor sturdy enough to withstand her body weight,” the statement says. “The belt did not belong to either Mikayla or her mother.”
The NBJC also noted that the apartment complex’s security camera system was turned off and said that police “threatened Strothers with exposing her daughter’s sexuality publicly if she reported the matter to the media.”
Strothers said that police didn’t show much interest in investigating the fight and she believes that they would have treated an attack on a white girl more seriously.
“The police only questioned one girl and no one else. Later that night Mikayla was lured outside by one of them (I believe),” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Despite requests from my attorney and the Boston Globe, the police are not releasing any information at all but are trying to rule this as a suicide.”
“My daughter was not suicidal. I need your help in bringing attention to this situation so that this will not swept under the rug.”
Since Strothers discussed her daughter’s death publicly, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and former Boston city councilmember Tito Jackson have criticized the handling of the investigation.
District Attorney Marian Ryan told NBC News that the investigation has been thorough.
“That is painfully false,” she said about the suggestion that Miller’s death was not properly investigated because she’s Black and queer.
Ryan said that Miller’s phone showed that she walked 1316 steps between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. that night, which was after the police had left following the fight but hours before the jogger would find her body. That’s “roughly the same distance from her home to the location where her body was found,” according to Ryan.
But Strothers said that Miller’s phone didn’t have an active plan and that it wouldn’t have been able to count her steps if it didn’t have access to wifi.
Ryan also said that each of the teens who allegedly attacked Miller had alibis that have been confirmed.
Miller’s cousin Ciara Dior said that she was “sweet, intelligent, talented, and a loving young lady” and that she “had plans to go to an HBCU, [because] she was a talented athlete who loved to play the game of basketball.”
Dior also believes that investigators “want to cover it up by calling it a suicide.”