HOPKINTON — A crowd of several hundred people gathered on the Town Common late Thursday afternoon to grieve and honor Mikayla Miller, a Black 16-year-old whose death last month has unleashed a wave of anger and skepticism over authorities’ response.
Holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” the crowd chanted “Mikayla Miller, say her name. Mikayla Miller, say her name.” Miller’s body was found in a wooded area near her home on April 18. Authorities have said there is no evidence of a hate crime and are waiting for the state medical examiner to determine the cause and manner of her death.
Police told relatives last month that Miller died by suicide. But her family has questioned that, and says the investigation has not been transparent. This week, Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan and Hopkinton police issued statements saying the investigation is continuing.
At the vigil, Calvina Strothers, Miller’s mother, struggled to contain her emotions as she described her daughter as a “bright and shining star.”
Miller, a sophomore at Hopkinton High School, had gotten into a fight with her girlfriend and other teens the day before her death, according to her mother. She spoke of her disappointment in the police investigation.
“The reason this town is considered one of the safest in America, in my opinion, is not because crimes do not occur, but because crime is only selectively reported in this community,” Strothers said to applause. Strothers said police had told her not to report what happened to media because her daughter’s sexuality would be revealed.
“We don’t care, we’re here and proud,” an attendee shouted from the crowd.
“I’ve had to not only be the grieving mother, but also put pressure on DA Marian Ryan, who I did not hear from until 12 days after Mikayla’s death,” Strothers said between tears. “I don’t want to have to spend all day on the phone getting evidence and passing it along in order for justice to be served. What I want is for the criminal justice system to work.”
On Thursday evening, a spokeswoman for Ryan said the office’s victim witness advocate was in touch with Strothers on April 19.
Ryan, at a press conference Tuesday, amid mounting pressure from Miller’s family and community advocates, defended the investigation.
“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.
Strothers has said her daughter was attacked on April 17 by five white teenagers. Ryan said there were five white and Latino teens present. An altercation involved three of them, including Miller.
During the hourlong vigil, which included candles and flowers placed at the gazebo, speakers called for justice.
“If there was transparency from day one, there wouldn’t have been a need for this,” said Monica Cannon-Grant, founder of Violence in Boston, who helped organize the vigil.
Cannon-Grant recited Ryan’s office number and instructed the crowd to respectfully tell the DA to “remove herself” and to push for an independent investigation by the FBI.
Violence in Boston would also cover the cost of an independent autopsy for Miller, she said.
A group of Miller’s family members stood by the side of the gazebo, wearing T-shirts printed with the flier for the rally and holding candles and “Justice for Mikayla” signs. Relatives said they had come from Boston, New Bedford, Easton, and Atlanta to attend.
The crowd took a moment of silence to remember Miller, a basketball player who loved video games and aspired to become a journalist.
Former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson told the crowd that the case would have been handled differently if Miller had been a young white woman.
Sean K. Ellis, who spent more than two decades in state prison before his murder conviction for the 1993 killing of a Boston police detective was overturned because of police and prosecutorial misconduct, also called for transparency in Miller’s death.
“The anti-cover-up is us,” Ellis said. “We’re coming for the facts.”
After the vigil, in waning sunlight, a small crowd gathered where Miller’s body was found in the woods a short distance away. Friends and residents wandered the ground covered in pine needles where Miller spent her last moments. Some laid flowers.
Some expressed skepticism over the investigation and filmed video of the scene.
Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.