Family demands accountability as Massachusetts authorities investigate the death of a Black 16-year-old

The family of a Black 16-year-old is demanding accountability and transparency after authorities announced an investigation into the teenager’s death last month in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

Mikayla Miller’s body was found by a jogger in the woods off a walking path during the early morning of April 18, according to a Tuesday news release from the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office.

The day before, authorities said, the teen’s mother made a complaint about her daughter being “jumped.” The teen reported that she was punched in the face and showed blood in her lip. The investigation into the physical assault remains open and there are no charges so far.

According to activist Tito Jackson, who said he spoke on behalf of Miller’s family at a vigil Thursday, police told the family that the teenager had committed suicide. Jackson said Miller’s body was found alone, up against a tree, with a belt around her neck.

However, the district attorney’s office said a ruling on the cause and manner of death is still pending from the Medical Examiner’s Office and “no final conclusions have been reached.”

The DA’s office said investigators have been able to interview witnesses, conduct a forensic analysis on a cell phone and review other evidence during the ongoing investigation, including video surveillance.

“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 news release.

The district attorney’s office released a timeline of events from the weekend Miller died, based on preliminary information. Ryan said it will do a fulsome and accurate account of what led to her death.

At the vigil on Thursday, Mikayla’s mother, Calvina Strothers, raised questions about whether the death was a suicide, calling for forensics to be done and released on the belt found with her daughter’s body.

Strothers also called for police reports of the April 17 assault and the report of the morning the teen’s body was found to be released.

CNN has reached the Hopkinton Police Department seeking further information, including its reports on the case, but hasn’t gotten a response. CNN made a similar request to the Massachusetts State Police, but it referred the inquiry to the District Attorney’s office.

Strothers also called into question some of the evidence presented by District Attorney Ryan, including that the teen’s phone allegedly traveled a distance of 1,316 steps, roughly the same distance from her home to the location where her daughter’s body was found. The phone had not been activated at the time, Strothers said, citing information she received from Apple.

During Thursday’s vigil, former Boston city councilor Jackson pointed toward race as a reason for the alleged lack of transparency from authorities in the case, saying “imagine she [Mikayla] was White and five Black kids beat her up one night and the next morning she was found dead. Now open your eyes, open your eyes, and see the truth that we know — that if Mikayla was a young White girl, we wouldn’t be here two and a half weeks after.”

On Tuesday, Ryan addressed concerns from citizens that her office had reached a conclusion in the death and that it was involved in a “coverup.” During her press conference Ryan said, “Make no mistake, there is no truth to the allegation that we have reached a final conclusion.”

Ryan continued, “Let me also speak to the calls and questions that we have appropriately received from concerned citizens regarding the notion that this office in some way has neglected Mikayla’s case, or worse — so much worse – is engaged in some sort of coverup because Mikayla was Black or because she was a member of the LGBTQIA community, that is painfully false.”

While Miller’s mother said she didn’t hear from the district attorney until 12 days after her daughter’s death, Ryan said her office has been in almost daily communications with the family’s representative.