Family Questions Medical Examiner’s Ruling in Death of LGBTQ Teen

Vigil is held for Mikayla Miller in Hopkinton
A vigil was held for Mikayla Miller, a Black queer teenager who was found dead in a wooded area near her home in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

LGBTQ advocates, family members, and lawmakers in Massachusetts are voicing frustration after the state’s medical examiner’s office declared the death of a Black LGBTQ teenage girl a suicide.

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. MetroWest Daily News reports that a death certificate released by the Hopkinton Town Clerk’s Office describes the victim’s death as “asphyxia by hanging.” From the beginning, advocates and family members have been skeptical of how authorities are handling the case, and at a press conference on May 19, they disputed the medical examiner’s decision and doubled down on calls for a comprehensive investigation.

“There’s no way that Mikayla could have killed herself,” David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, said in a telephone press conference on May 19. “Mikayla 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.”

Johns added, “It is also worth noting that Mikayla was wearing a tracksuit that did not require or need a belt. We know from Calvina Strothers that the belt does not belong to Mikayla or her mother.”

In the events leading up to her death,  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. 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. The teenagers have not been charged in connection to the incident.

It remains unclear whether Miller’s death is in any way connected to the alleged altercation. Advocates want the teenagers to be reprimanded for the altercation.

“There are many questions and inconsistencies,” Tito Jackson, a former councilmember in Boston, said at the press conference. “The fact that is indisputable is that Mikayla was assaulted by five other young people.”

Authorities have been facing heat since the start of the investigation. During the phone call, advocates said that police have prioritized disclosing information to the media before speaking with the family.

This month, Strothers revealed that the police department was hesitant to investigate her daughter’s death, indicating that it was a suicide before examining the case. When Strothers pressed law enforcement about this issue, authorities allegedly warned her not to bring the story to the media because it would expose her late daughter’s sexual orientation.

Despite the latest findings, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office said they are still investigating the incident.

“Our investigation into the events surrounding Mikayla’s death remains active and ongoing,” the office said in a statement to the Associated Press. “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.”

Family and advocates held a vigil for Miller on May 6.

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