Two months after a Black teenager was found dead in the woods near her Hopkinton home, Representative Ayanna Pressley and some of Massachusetts’s most prominent elected officials of color are pressing for a “thorough, transparent, and independent” investigation into her death.
A medical examiner ruled last month that 16-year-old Mikayla Miller died by suicide, a finding that brought little closure to Miller’s family, distrustful of Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and local police, who waited weeks before providing information about the tragedy to the public.
Miller’s death has been a lightning rod in mostly white Hopkinton. Critics say Ryan and local police have been insufficiently transparent and haven’t paid enough attention to a physical altercation involving Miller and five teenagers that occurred the day before she was found dead -- a fight Miller’s mother said was fallout from a dispute between Miller and her girlfriend.
In a Wednesday letter to Ryan, 13 elected leaders from the Boston area questioned whether Miller’s death may have been a hate crime, “especially if the independent investigation finds that she was driven to suicide due to bullying because of her race and sexual orientation.” Ryan has said Miller’s death did not appear to be a hate crime.
“The greater Boston community is still grieving the tragic loss of this young life and questions remain unanswered about the full circumstances that led to her death,” the officials wrote. “While we understand that the medical examiner’s office has determined that the cause of her death was suicide, reports about those circumstances have made closure hard to find for Mikayla’s family and the community.”
In addition to Pressley, the letter was signed by Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins; state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz; state Representatives Nika Elugardo, Brandy Fluker-Oakley, Russell Holmes, and Liz Miranda; and Boston City Councilors Annissa Essaibi-George, Michelle Wu, Julia Mejia, Ricardo Arroyo, Andrea Campbell, and Lydia Edwards.
An independent investigation, they argued, would not just answer lingering questions about the circumstances of Miller’s death but also “help to restore the trust that has been broken by the lack of transparency in the investigation currently carried out by your office and Hopkinton Police.”
They did not specify who or what entity might take on such an investigation. Miller’s family has called for an independent investigation led by the FBI.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office has the authority to order an independent probe, has said she expects a thorough investigation from Ryan’s office. She has been in communication with representatives for the family about the case, but will await the district attorney’s findings before weighing in further, a spokesperson for her office said Wednesday.
Meghan Kelly, a spokesperson for Ryan, declined to comment on the letter, but said the investigation remains active and encompasses “all of the events leading up to Mikayla’s death, including any allegations of bullying.” The office has been in close touch with an attorney who is representing Miller’s mother, she said, and facilitated a call Wednesday between that attorney and the elected officials.
A jogger discovered Miller on April 18 about a mile from Miller’s home, where she was hanging by a thin black belt attached to a tree, according to local officials. Miller’s mother, Calvina Strothers, has said she does not believe her daughter died by suicide.
Governor Charlie Baker has also said he would support an independent investigation into Miller’s death.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Michael Brown, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin, is representing Miller’s family.