The family of Mikayla Miller, the 16-year-old found dead in Hopkinton last week, is disputing the state medical examiner's ruling that she died by suicide.
Miller was found with a belt around her neck, tied to a tree in the woods near her home on April 18, her family said. The medical examiner found that Miller died of asphyxia by hanging, according to a copy of her death certificate released Tuesday.
But in news conference Wednesday, her family says the tree wasn't sturdy enough to hold Miller's weight and the belt didn't belong to Miller or her mother. And they noted Miller and several other teenagers were involved in a fight at Miller's apartment complex the night before she was found dead.
“Someone did this to my daughter,” said Miller's mother, Calvina Strothers, during the hour-long virtual briefing. Strothers said she believes her daughter was murdered, and didn't die by suicide, as she says police told her the morning her daughter's body was found.
"The only thing I want out of all of this is to find the truth," Strothers said. "The conclusion they made yesterday is the conclusion they made the first day they walked into my house. But I know the truth and it's not what they say."
Strothers was joined by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who has taken up the case and has represented families of those killed by police and others nationwide.
Crump said talking to Strothers, he was reminded of speaking to the families of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Abery, two Black people whose deaths initially received little attention.
"They talked about how their child was dead and nobody seemed to care," Crump said. "Nobody wanted to try to help them get to the truth, to get justice."
An independent autopsy of Miller is complete, Crump said, but he repeatedly declined to release more information about what it found or how it might conflict with the state medical examiner's ruling.
Activists and Miller's family have questioned whether authorities were quick to dismiss the death as a suicide because the teen was Black and a member of the LGBTQ community.
Strothers, Crump and Boston activist Monica Cannon-Grant raised other questions about the investigation, including whether the teenagers involved in the assault of Miller have connections to the local police department or whether video footage from the apartment complex the night of the assault was destroyed.
Middlesex DA Marian Ryan said earlier this month that investigators have alibis for all of the teenagers involved in the earlier assault. But her office has said it is continuing to investigate the case, including reviewing text messages on the teen's phone.
Even if the death was a suicide, Cannon-Grant suggested that others could still be culpable. She noted that when Phoebe Prince died by suicide in 2010, her death led to charges against those who had bullied her and new anti-bullying laws.
Cannon-Grant also bemoaned the lack of information provided to the family from both the district attorney's office and the Hopkinton police department. Shortly before the press conference, Hopkinton police released some records related to Miller's death, including the 911 call and dispatch report the morning her body was found. The records show the caller who reported finding Miller's body also described her death as a suicide.
Cannon-Grant said the family was not given that information ahead of time.
The department refused to release records related to the physical altercation between Miller and several other teens the night before she died. Middlesex DA Marian Ryan has said that a former girlfriend of Miller and others came to Miller's apartment complex, where there was an assault. Hopkinton police responded after Miller's mother called police.
Hopkinton police said they were restricted from disclosing any information about that incident under the 2014 domestic violence law. That law prohibits police from publicly releasing information concerning responses to reports of domestic violence, rape or sexual assault.
Hopkinton police Chief Joseph Bennett said in a statement that he appreciated the public interest in the case and that "we all want answers."
“I wish to state for the record that the officers and staff of the Hopkinton Police Department are professionals who responded to this tragedy with urgency and who are assisting in conducting a thorough and impartial investigation," Bennett said.
Crump said the family plans an independent investigation. Cannon-Grant said she also hopes the FBI takes over the government's investigation.
Resources: You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Samaritans Statewide Hotline (call or text) at 1-877-870-HOPE (4673). Call2Talk can be accessed by calling Massachusetts 211 or 508-532-2255 (or text c2t to 741741).