The death of Hopkinton teen Mikayla Miller made national headlines last year when her mother and activists suggested the young woman, one of the few Black students in a nearly all-white town, was murdered by a gang of white teens.
Calvina Strothers, Miller’s mother, raised more than $60,000 to pay for an independent investigation into her daughter’s death, rejecting the state medical examiner’s conclusion that she died by suicide. Meanwhile, social justice activist Monica Cannon-Grant promised to pay for a second, independent autopsy of the young woman.
Almost a year later, a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over Miller’s death. Neither Strothers nor Cannon-Grant has released to the public or to prosecutors any new information they may have uncovered. A Rhode Island pathologist confirmed that she performed a second autopsy, but said she could not release the results.
And Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan has not officially closed the case, even though she has said publicly that Miller’s death was not suspicious; the teen was discovered on April 18, 2021, along a woods trail with a belt around her neck. As a result, at least one of the teens implicated by Strothers — Miller’s former girlfriend — fears she could yet face criminal charges.
Ryan is “acutely aware of how painful anniversaries — especially first anniversaries — are for the families of those who have lost loved ones,” said spokeswoman Meghan Kelly, in an e-mailed statement. “Accordingly, District Attorney Ryan intends to provide Mikayla’s family with the grace of time and space that they need before we make any further disclosures or announcements.”
The yearlong silence has been deafening for Kaitlyn Anderson, who had dated Miller for two years before breaking up shortly before Miller’s death. She said some of her classmates at Hopkinton High blame her for Miller’s death: They either don’t believe that it was suicide or think Anderson drove Miller to take her own life.
“A lot of people still think she was murdered,” Anderson said in a sometimes tearful interview. “I’ll be walking through the hallways — if I’m not being stared at, people under their breath will call me a murderer. I just keep walking. I try not to let it get to me.”
At the time of her daughter’s death, Strothers told potential donors that police and prosecutors had shown her only “disrespect, slammed doors, misdirection, glaring inconsistencies, extreme confusion, and ultimately, silence.”
Reached by phone, Strothers declined to comment.
Cannon-Grant’s phone was not accepting calls and she did not respond to texts or e-mails. But her lawyer, Robert Goldstein, said Cannon-Grant is no longer involved in the Miller case and couldn’t comment. Cannon-Grant is now facing federal charges that she siphoned money from her nonprofit organization, Violence in Boston, to fund a vacation, meals, trips to nail salons, and other personal expenses.
Pathologist Priya Banerjee confirmed that she performed an autopsy on Miller around the time that Cannon-Grant was tweeting about the second autopsy. Cannon-Grant promised to release the autopsy results in May 2021 but never did.
The tragic death of a 16-year-old high school student would have shaken the community of Hopkinton regardless, but the circumstances made the Miller case immediately controversial.
The day before Miller’s body was discovered, she had gotten into an argument with Anderson, which turned into a physical altercation. Anderson acknowledges she hit Miller, but said it was in self defense after the much bigger Miller cornered her in a clubhouse at her mother’s apartment complex. Both teens had friends with them in the room.
A neighbor called the police.
When police told Strothers that her daughter’s death appeared to be a suicide, she accused them of rushing to judgment. When the state medical examiner’s autopsy report was released, Strothers rejected the findings, saying her daughter would never kill herself.
“Someone did this to my daughter,” she said in an audio news conference in May 2021. “I know the truth and it’s not what they say.”
Cannon-Grant, who organized a May 6 vigil for Miller on the Hopkinton Common, alleged in an interview with on WGBH’s “Greater Boston” that police were covering up for white teenagers involved in the fight the night before. She called Ryan “incompetent,” saying she should “let the FBI handle this case.”
If the white students involved in the fight had been Black, she said, “these people would be arrested.”
“Everything about this case says that something is being hidden, and it does not feel good,” she said.
Miller’s death caught the attention of politicians including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley, and prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump. He called Miller’s death “highly suspicious. ‘Was she lynched?’” asked Crump. “And if she was, why aren’t we saying that?”
Kaitlyn Anderson paints a very different picture of Mikayla Miller’s last days. Anderson said Miller was despondent after their breakup on April 1, 2021.
Anderson said she loved Miller, but Miller had become more and more dependent on her, sometimes texting Anderson every few seconds. She finally broke off the relationship, Anderson said, because it was affecting her own mental health.
But Anderson said she still tried to get help for Miller who had threatened suicide. A week before her death, Anderson wrote to Miller’s aunt, “Worried about Mikayla. Her mom isn’t home and she’s been crying all weekend and I don’t trust her alone with herself and I’m scared she might hurt herself.”
The next day, Anderson e-mailed Miller’s high school counselor: “I think she really needs someone to talk to. She’s been crying and having panic attacks all weekend and she normally never does.”
On April 17, Miller and Anderson arranged to meet at a clubhouse at Miller’s apartment complex. Anderson wanted to pick up some clothes she had loaned Miller. Both came with friends — all but one were white — but the encounter became heated when Miller pressed to resume her relationship with Anderson.
“She was out of it and was so upset,” said Anderson. “We got into a fight.”
Miller was much larger — weighing 200 pounds and standing 5 feet 7, according to the police report. Anderson is 5 feet tall and weighs 90 pounds.
Miller’s mother blamed Anderson for the violence, writing on her GoFundMe appeal that Miller had been “jumped by five white teens” that day.
Rumors took off that Anderson and perhaps others, either witnesses or participants in the fight, could have been involved in Miller’s death.
The DA’s office reviewed cellphone and computer records of Kaitlyn Anderson and the other teens with her at the clubhouse and found they were nowhere near where Miller’s body was found, but questions lingered about how Miller died.
At the vigil on Hopkinton Common, Strothers called her daughter “my bright and shining star in this crazy world,” and made clear why she was demanding further investigation. “The only thing I want out of this is the truth,” she said.
She established a GoFundMe page to raise money under the headline, “Please help investigate Mikayla’s death.”
Fifteen hundred people donated to the GoFundMe campaign created to investigate Miller’s death — many at the request of Violence in Boston and Cannon-Grant.
Some of the advocates who pushed for the private investigation, including Crump, did not respond to multiple e-mails. A Boston lawyer who acted as Crump’s local counsel said he knows nothing about the investigation.
Though Strothers declined to discuss the investigation, Angelique McNaughton, a GoFundMe spokeswoman, said the funds raised online “have been safely delivered to Calvina Struthers (sic) to help the family cover costs associated with Mikayla’s Miller’s tragic death.”
Ryan’s spokeswoman declined to say whether the office is still actively investigating the case.
Kaitlyn Anderson and her mother fear that she still could face charges for the assault the night before Miller’s death — and have been waiting for the DA’s office to say its investigation is over. The family retained an attorney to represent Kaitlyn Anderson if she is charged.
“I haven’t heard anything, though they said, ‘You’ll be the first to know,’” said Megan Anderson. “Kaitlyn has been freaking out. They think she was part of a big plot because my daughter is white and Mikayla is Black. We’re not like that. They wouldn’t have been together if we were like that.”
Kaitlyn Anderson said she didn’t attend Miller’s vigil or wake because she felt unwelcome: “I didn’t go to any services. It still doesn’t feel real.”
In some ways, Anderson said, no one has had a chance to mourn Mikayla Miller’s death.
“Instead of it being treated like a normal suicide where everyone grieves, it was turned into a murder trial,” she said. “People wanted justice for something that didn’t happen.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.