A Black Teen’s Mom Is Fundraising to Solve Her Mysterious Death in the Woods

Mikayla Miller’s mother said her daughter was found “bound by the neck with a black belt to a tree,” and she suggested police prematurely concluded it was a suicide.
May 12, 2021, 5:09pm
Screen Shot 2021-05-12 at 12
Screen shot from GoFundMe raising money for resources to solve the death of Mikayla Miller

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Nearly four weeks after a jogger found Mikayla Miller dead in the Massachusetts woods, her family still has no concrete answers about what happened to the Black 16-year-old. And they no longer trust the police to give them those answers, so they’re raising money for their own investigation.

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On April 17, Miller was “jumped,” in the words of her mother, Calvina Strothers, by five other teenagers, according to both Strothers and the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. Strothers called the police in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where the family lives, and filed a report. The police arrived shortly after 7 p.m. that night and found that Mikayla had a bloodied lip. 

Strothers was the last person to see Mikayla alive, at around 9:30 that night. Her body was found the next morning in a nearby wooded area. 

But that’s where the police’s version of events diverges from Strothers’. Last week, Strothers wrote on Facebook that Mikayla had been found “bound by the neck with a black belt to a tree.” A timeline of Mikayla’s last few days released by the DA’s office doesn’t mention a tree.

In a GoFundMe aimed at raising funds to independently investigate Mikayla’s death, Strothers suggested the police had prematurely concluded that her daughter’s death was a suicide. They’d also failed to properly investigate the teens who she said attacked her daughter. According to the GoFundMe, Mikayla was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,

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Originally, the district attorney’s office said that Mikayla’s death was not considered suspicious. Last week, it said that Mikayla’s case remains open. Police have confirmed, however, the locations of all five teens who’d “interacted” with Mikayla prior to her death.

“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 accounting of what led to her death,” Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said in a statement last week. “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.”

"Let me also speak to the calls and questions that we have appropriately received from concerned citizens regarding the notion that this office in some way has neglected Mikayla's case, or worse—so much worse—is engaged in some sort of cover-up because Mikayla was Black or because she was a member of the LGBTQIA community,” Ryan added in a press conference. “That is painfully false."

But in the weeks since Mikayla’s death, local community members and activists have demanded more transparency from the cops. At a hundreds-strong rally last week in Mikayla’s honor, many carried “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for Mikayla” signs, USA Today reported.

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“I can’t believe we’re just finding out about this, and we wouldn’t have if she was a white kid,” Hannah Chamber-Lindquist told the outlet. “People would have burned down the town if she were a white kid.”

Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat, has also called for a “full, transparent, independent investigation” into Mikayla’s death.

“Mikayla Miller deserved to grow old,” Pressley wrote on Facebook. “She had so many basketball games, road trips, and HBCU homecomings ahead of her. She deserved childhood—uninterrupted.”

In her GoFundMe, Strothers described Miller as a “beautiful soul.” An athlete with a love for basketball, Miller hoped to study journalism, Strothers said.

“Mikayla was a loving daughter, niece, and friend to so many,” Strothers wrote. “We need your help. We need to raise funds so that we have the resources to continue this fight for accountability, transparency, and #JusticeforMikayla.”

So far, the GoFundMe has raised more than $55,000.