Mikayla Miller loved video games and wanted to be a journalist. She played basketball at Hopkinton High, where she was a sophomore. Her mother planned to take her on a tour of historically Black colleges and universities this month, because Miller hoped to attend one after graduation.
But on the morning of April 18, the 16-year-old was found dead in a wooded area a mile from her house in Hopkinton. The police told her family that her death was a suicide, but her family says that they have unanswered questions about what happened and that they felt largely ignored by the police and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.
In the face of near silence from the police and the DA’s office, rumors about how a young Black girl ended up dead in the woods in a nearly all-white town have ricocheted across Hopkinton and beyond. Accusations of a lynching, a racially motivated beating, and a police cover-up have sped across social media. Calvina Strothers, Miller’s mother, has raised questions about whether the death was actually a suicide.
The case has now become a lightning rod in the community. On Tuesday, the district attorney addressed the family and public, but it was not enough to stop advocates from decrying the process and calling for an independent investigation.
Strothers said that her daughter was attacked on April 17 by five white teenagers, fallout from a fight Miller had with her girlfriend. More than two weeks after Miller’s death and after mounting pressure from her family and other community advocates, Ryan finally provided information publicly and pushed back on the rumors.
“Regarding the notion that this office has in some way neglected Mikayla’s case, or worse . . . engaged in some sort of cover-up because Mikayla was Black, or because she was a member of the LGBTQI community — that is patently false,” Ryan said.
Ryan confirmed the details of a physical altercation between Miller and two teenagers inside a clubhouse near her apartment on Saturday evening between 5:15 and 6:45 p.m. (three other teens were also present). She said her office had confirmed through cellphone records, EZ-Pass records, witness statements, and video footage that none of the five young people who had been with Miller during the altercation were with her later in the night. About 2.5 hours after the fight, Miller’s phone indicated that she traveled 1,300 steps, which Ryan said was roughly the distance from her house to the woods where she was found.
Ryan said that her office was continuing to investigate, but that Miller’s death did not appear to be a hate crime and she is waiting for a ruling on the cause and manner of death from the medical examiner’s office. In an interview on GBH, she said that she did not have enough evidence to press charges against the teenagers involved in the fight and clarified that they were white and Latino.
Despite Ryan’s comments, Monica Cannon-Grant, the founder of Violence in Boston, is hosting a rally in Hopkinton on Thursday “to demand answers from District Attorney Marian Ryan” and told GBH that her organization would conduct an independent autopsy. She also said that Ryan should “step down and let the FBI handle this case.”
“There has been a lack of transparency and accountability out of DA Ryan’s office,” Cannon-Grant said.
Strothers and community advocates say that if the racial dynamics had been reversed, the entire case would have been handled differently.
If a group of Black kids had been involved in a fight with a white girl, “and then she showed up dead hours later, it would be on every news channel,” Strothers said in an interview with the Globe. The district attorney’s office confirmed that Strothers had reported the fight to Hopkinton police about an hour after it happened and that Miller said she was pushed and punched in the face.
Before community advocates got involved, the Hopkinton police and the Middlesex District Attorney’s office were tight-lipped. Police denied a Globe records request for reports related to the attack or to the death, saying they were part of an “ongoing active investigation.” A public log of Hopkinton police activity, which should include information about most complaints received and crimes reported, does not include any information about the attack or Miller’s body being found.
Strothers said the police immediately dismissed her daughter’s death as a suicide, and have been hostile and uncooperative in the two weeks since. She has claimed that an officer urged her not to go to the media because her daughter’s sexuality would be revealed, and said that police have declined to give her incident reports from the weekend her daughter died.
“My concern is, did they really thoroughly look at the crime scene?” Strothers said. “Or did they just dismiss it because she’s a Black girl on a tree in Hopkinton?”
In a statement Tuesday night, Hopkinton Police Chief Joseph Bennett said the department’s “most heartfelt thoughts go out to her family and all those who care for her.”
The investigation remains “open and ongoing, with no final conclusions of any kind,” he wrote.
The Middlesex district attorney’s office, which investigates all unattended deaths, initially told media outlets that Miller’s death was not considered suspicious, but that it was investigating. Without official answers, outrage on social media and in the community mounted. Strothers, Cannon-Grant, and former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson are planning a candlelight vigil and rally in Hopkinton on Thursday afternoon.
“When a person of color is found dead under unusual circumstances, it is important to consider all options, including launching an independent investigation to ensure the integrity of the process,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. The organization is also participating in the rally.
The district attorney’s office said it had been investigating throughout and disputed the idea that it was not in touch with Miller’s family.
“If something happened to one of my children, I would go to the ends of the Earth to get those answers, and I would have wanted the answers immediately, so I completely sympathize,” Ryan said.
In the meantime, speculation and fear have swirled. “Mikayla was Racially beaten up and LYNCHED in YOUR community Hopkinton!! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?!!” the Facebook event for the rally reads. Almost 200 people have said they will attend.
Travis Anderson and Sahar Fatima of the Globe staff and correspondent Nick Stoico contributed to this report.