‘Precious and promising’ Black LGBT+ teen found dead. Police are only just investigating her death weeks later

Mikayla Miller smiles in a white top, sat by some rocks

Mikayla Miller, a 16-year-old member of the LGBT+ community, was found dead hanging from a tree in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, last month.

In the death of a teenager that has touched off feelings of anger and suspicion against the authorities, Miller was found dead in a woodland area just a stone’s throw away from her home on the morning of 18 April.

Just hours before her death, Miller had been attacked by a group of teens in the common area of her apartment complex, left with a bloodied lip, police said.

State law enforcement initially refused to treat her death as suspicious, but about-turned Tuesday (4 May) and vowed to fully investigate amid a fierce public outcry from advocacy groups and Miller’s mother, Calvina Strothers.

On Facebook, Strothers claimed that Miller was “found bound by the neck with a black belt to a tree”, prompting some local racial justice groups to consider her death as a “lynching“.

“Mikayla Miller was a 16-year-old Black girl from Hopkinton, MA,” said non-profit organisation Black Boston. “She was recently beaten and lynched by racist, violent, community members. We are at a total loss for words. This needs to end.”

She also claimed that police sought to “rule this as a suicide. My daughter was not suicidal”.

Strothers also expressed her frustration towards what she described as an almost indifferent and hostile police force in a reported message shared by Violence in Boston, a group that represents victims of violent crimes.

She alleged her daughter was slain by a “group of kids” who “ambushed” her. Massachusetts State Police did not log either incident, she claimed, and were sluggish to open an investigation.

One police official even “warned” her “not to go to the media” or else they would out her late daughter.

What happened to Mikayla Miller?

As a community mourns the loss of such a young life and struggles with the weeks-long silence from officials, Middlesex district attorney Marian Ryan addressed the high schooler’s death in a news briefing based on the preliminary investigation.

Describing the teen as a “cherished daughter, a gifted student, a talented athlete, and a loyal friend”, Ryan said Miller’s death was an “unspeakable tragedy” as she rebuffed claims of inaction and wrongdoing.

“From the beginning of this investigation, our investigators have been fully committed to determining exactly how Mikayla’s precious and promising life ended,” she said.

“Make no mistake, there is no truth to the allegation that we have reached a final conclusion.”

She added: “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 LGBT+ community – that is patently false.”

In cobbling together witnesses accounts, cellular data, surveillance footage and even Miller’s mobile phone pedometer, Ryan said investigators have an understanding of Miller’s whereabouts prior to the discovery of her body.

On the evening of 17 April, Miller was with two friends in a clubhouse area of the apartment complex her family lived in along Revolution Way when the two friends left.

Four white teens, two girls, two boys, then arrived and a scuffle broke out between them at around 5:11pm and 6:41pm, Ryan said. In an earlier interview with the Boston Globe, Strothers alleged that one of the teens was Miller’s girlfriend.

Miller’s mother then called the Hopkinton Police about her daughter being “jumped”.

According to police statements, Miller had suffered a broken lip and told officers she had been pushed and punched in the face. Officers also noted that the clubhouse had been damaged.

Tracking her step count on her iPhone’s Health app, investigators found she had begun walking between 9-10pm – Strothers was asleep by 9:30pm, thinking her child was home safe.

Miller had walked about “1,316 steps, roughly the same distance from her home to the location where her body was found” the next morning.

The locations of the group of teenagers Miller had an altercation with was pinned by the authorities using GPS signals, Ryan said. None were at the woods that night.

“As to who else may have been in the woods or that area on Sunday, we do not have any information as to that,” Ryan stressed.

Top Massachusetts officials were left reeling at the death of Miller. Member of congress Ayanna Pressley called for “transparency” in the investigation on Twitter Tuesday evening.

“Mikayla Miller deserved to grow old,” Pressley, who represents the seventh district, said.

“She had so many basketball games, road trips and HBCU homecomings ahead of her. She deserved childhood – uninterrupted.

“There needs to be a full, transparent, independent investigation into her death.”

Maura Healy, the state’s attorney general, tweeted: “My heart breaks for Mikayla Miller’s family.

“Young, LGBT+ girls of colour deserve all our love, support, and protection.

“Nothing will bring her back, but I hope a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death can bring some peace to her family and community.”