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Saniyya Dennis, missing Buffalo State College student, died by apparent suicide, DA says

The Daily Beast

She Was Found Dead in the Woods. Her Family Doesn’t Buy ‘Suicide’ Claim.

Facebook/Justice for Mikayla MillerHours before a jogger found high school student Mikayla Miller in a wooded area on April 18, her mom had called the police.The 16-year-old basketball player at Hopkinton High had been confronted by five teens in a common area of her apartment building, located 30 minutes outside of Boston. She was attacked by two of them, resulting in a bloody lip from being punched in the face.Calvina Strothers said she’d called police after her daughter was “jumped” following a dispute on Facebook. But, less than 12 hours later, Miller was found “bound by the neck with a black belt to a tree” about a mile from home, Strothers wrote in a Facebook post.Initially, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office labeled Miller’s death as non-suspicious, and Strothers said police privately told the family it was a suicide. But now, officials are insisting the investigation is ongoing, saying that no conclusions can be made until after an autopsy has been completed.Six Hangings and a Cop Shootout: Questions Surround ‘Disturbing’ Spate of DeathsMiller’s family is now calling for an independent investigation, accusing state and local officials of conducting a botched investigation that was initially “swept under the rug” and neglected for weeks in a town that is 86 percent white.“They don’t want us to come in numbers demanding answers. They want to cover it up by calling it a suicide,” Ciara Dior, one of Miller’s cousins, said in a Facebook post. “Let me tell you something, my family is huge and we don’t play when it comes to our family. We won’t stop until we get justice!”She described Miller as a “sweet, intelligent, talented, and a loving young lady.” “My baby cousin loved her life she had plans to go to an HBCU, she was a talented athlete who loved to play the game of basketball,” she wrote.After two weeks of near-silence, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan insisted in a Tuesday press conference the investigation is ongoing. She declined to say whether foul play or suicide was involved until after the state medical examiner issues a report.“Let me make one thing clear: Nothing can bring back Mikayla or console her grieving family. But what we can do—indeed what we owe her—is an accurate and fulsome [sic] accounting of what led to her death. You have my word as your district attorney and as a mother, that I will deliver that answer. But the public must give us time to find the answers,” Ryan said, before pledging to “release every shred of legally releasable information.”Ryan said Hopkinton Police were dispatched to Miller’s home just after 7 p.m. on April 17 after her mother’s call. Witness interviews and cell phone records indicate that a “physical altercation” between Miller and two teenagers—a boy and girl—occurred about an hour prior. Another female remained in a car during the fight, Ryan said. She said that Miller had a romantic relationship with one of the girls in the group.Officers at the scene noted that Miller had injuries consistent with being punched in the face and had blood on her lip. All the teenagers had left by the time Miller’s mom called the cops, so officers spoke to Miller, then left to interview one of the teen girls, Ryan said.Miller’s mom went to bed at around 9:30 p.m. assuming that her daughter was home, Ryan said. But a health app on the teen’s phone later showed that, between 9 and 10 p.m, Miller walked about “1,316 steps, roughly the same distance from her home to the location where her body was found,” Ryan said.The next morning, Miller’s mom said, she was informed of her daughter’s death by police, who told her it was a suicide. Two days later, a spokeswoman from the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office told local outlets the death was not considered suspicious.“My concern is, did they really thoroughly look at the crime scene?” Strothers said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “Or did they just dismiss it because she’s a Black girl on a tree in Hopkinton?”The Hopkinton Police Department did not respond to The Daily Beast’s questions about Strothers’ claim that they initially said it was suicide. In a Wednesday statement, they said they couldn’t provide any information about the case as it’s being investigated by the district attorney. When probed by reporters on Tuesday, Ryan did not dispute Strothers’ claim.“Very often, as everyone knows, things may appear to be one thing and then we learn more information,” she said. “Often things come to light as we proceed further in this case.”Ryan added that her office had “confirmed the whereabouts of all five teenagers… that interacted with Mikayla the night prior to her death and have confirmed their locations later in the evening.” None of them has been charged, and she declined to identify them.She also dismissed allegations that Miller was targeted for being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And she denied accusations that her commitment to the case only came after weeks of silence, insisting that her office had been communicating with Miller’s family daily.But Monica Cannon-Grant, founder of the activist organization Violence in Boston, and Tito Jackson, a former Boston city councilman, said in a Wednesday statement that the Miller family had been met with “disrespect, slammed doors, misdirection, glaring inconsistencies, extreme confusion, and ultimately, silence” over the last two weeks.Ryan’s office and the Hopkinton Police were “completely incapable of properly investigating this case,” they said.“Mikayla Miller deserved to grow old. She had so many basketball games, road trips, and HBCU homecomings ahead of her. She deserved childhood—uninterrupted,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) said in a Tuesday night tweet. “There needs to be a full, transparent, independent investigation into her death.”If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.