Family Demands Answers in Suspicious Death of Black LGBTQ Teenager

Vigil is held for Mikayla Miller in Hopkinton
Advocates and family members are demanding justice for Mikayla Miller, a Black teenager who was found dead in a wooded area near her home.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Family members, lawmakers, and advocates are calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the suspicious death of a Black LGBTQ teenage girl who was found dead in the woods in Massachusetts last month. While the victim’s family wants to know how she died, they are also voicing frustration over the response of the local police department, which allegedly warned the victim’s mother not to bring the story to the media because it would spark revelations about her late daughter’s sexual orientation.

Last month, a jogger discovered 16-year-old Mikayla Miller’s body in the woods at 34 West Main Street in Hopkinton, which is about 34 miles west of Boston. According to authorities, Miller was allegedly embroiled in a physical altercation with five other teenagers earlier in the evening on April 17, which was one day before her body was found. 

Less than an hour after the alleged altercation, police paid a visit to Miller’s home following a call from her mother, Calvina Strothers, who had issued a complaint alleging that her daughter was “jumped” earlier in the day. Miller said she was punched in the face and had a bloody lip.

Less than a half an hour later — shortly before 8 p.m. — police visited the home of one of the individuals involved in the alleged altercation and obtained a statement from two of those involved. No charges emerged from that incident.

Strothers last saw Miller that evening around 9:30 p.m. and her body was subsequently found early the next morning near a walking path. A May 4 Facebook post purportedly published by Miller’s mother, Calvina Strothers, claimed that Miller “was found bound by the neck with a black belt to a tree,” though a CNN article noted that activist Tito Jackson said Miller’s body was found “up against a tree.” A press release from the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office does not mention anything about a tree.

It remains unclear whether Miller’s death is in any way connected to the alleged altercation. The DA’s office, citing phone GPS records, insists that the location of the group of teenagers involved in the altercation was different from the location where Miller was found. Still, it remains unclear whether these events are directly connected to the victim’s death.

Miller’s family is demanding answers and expressing frustration in response to the way authorities are handling the case. While still in the early stages of the investigation, the Hopkinton Police Department allegedly told the victim’s family that Miller died by suicide, according to a post on GoFundMe.  As relatives sought more evidence in the case, an officer allegedly warned them not to go to the news media or else they would expose Miller’s sexuality to the public, according to a social media post from Violence in Boston, a local anti-violence coalition.

Miller’s family blasted authorities for dragging their feet in the investigation.

“Instead of answers, the response from the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, State Police, and the Hopkinton Police has been the exact opposite,” the victim’s mother, Calvina Strothers, wrote in a message on GoFundMe. “Disrespect, slammed doors, misdirection, glaring inconsistencies, extreme confusion, and ultimately, silence.”

Mikayla Miller’s mother, Calvina Strothers, speaks at a vigil for her daughter on May 6.Reuters/Brian Snyder

In a statement, the DA’s office said they are still awaiting reports from the medical examiner’s office on the cause of Miller’s death.

“From the beginning of this investigation, our investigators have been fully committed to determining exactly how Mikayla’s promising life ended. Mikayla’s death is an unspeakable tragedy for her loved ones and the entire community,” Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said in a written statement. “We know that is difficult, and we are working on getting answers, but we must get there in a way that does not compromise the integrity of this investigation.”

Although authorities said Miller was not targeted because of her race or sexuality, LGBTQ advocates do not want officials to rule out those possibilities. In a statement, the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBTQ civil rights group, ripped officials for their response to the incident.

“The way that we come into our sexual identities is deeply personal and young people, in particular, deserve the protection and support required to find complete comfort in who they are and how they show up in the world,” David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a written statement. “The fact that police officers potentially sought to weaponize Mikayla’s sexuality in addition to abdicating the responsibility they have to investigate her murder saddens and enrages me.”

Johns added, “Children do not ask to be born, in whatever beautiful way they are born, and we owe it to them to ensure they feel safe and protected. We failed Mikayla and too many other Black LGBTQ+/same-gender loving children who worry that they may become victims of state-sanctioned violence. It is my expectation that every company and compassionate adult who has aligned themselves with the global movement for Black lives is meaningfully engaged in the effort to ensure that those responsible for the murder of Mikayla are held accountable.”

In a statement, Monica Cannon-Grant, an organizer at Violence in Boston, and Tito Jackson, an activist and former politician, called for more resources to be allocated toward the case.

 “Every single day since her family lost 16-year-old Mikayla Miller two weeks ago, a beautiful and passionate Black girl with dreams of attending an HBCU, her grieving loved ones have asked for what any of us would demand if she was our own: honesty, transparency, accountability, and answers from authorities,” Jackson and Cannon-Grant said in a statement on Facebook. “The only thing these authorities have proved since April 17th is that they are completely incapable of properly investigating this case. Mikayla and her family deserve so much better.”

Miller’s death drew attention from local lawmakers as well as members of Congress, including Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who demanded a comprehensive review of the case.

“Mikayla Miller deserved to grow old,” Pressley wrote in a tweet on May 4. “She had so many basketball games, road trips and HBCU homecomings ahead of her. She deserved childhood — uninterrupted. There needs to be a full, transparent, independent investigation into her death.”

In a May 6 vigil honoring Miller on Thursday, Strothers stressed that she is not a “vigilante” — she just wants justice for her daughter.

“I don’t want to have to spend all day on the phone getting and passing along evidence in order for justice to be served,” Strothers said during the rally. “What I want is for the criminal justice system to work.”

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