HOPKINTON, Mass. – Mikayla Miller and her mother Calvina Strothers were “two peas in a pod.”
She loved to make her mom tea every night and was often her mom’s “dinner date,” as the two enjoyed going out to eat. They traveled together regularly, with quick trips from their home in Massachusetts to Maine or New Hampshire and had plans to return to Trinidad soon.
“Mikayla was only 16-years-old. She was my bright and shining star in this crazy world,” Strothers said at a rally Thursday for her daughter, less than a month since her death.
On the morning of April 18, Mikayla, a Black teenager, was found dead in a wooded area by a jogger in what the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office initially said was not considered a suspicious death. It remained an “open and active” investigation, the office said at the time.
In the weeks since, details have trickled out about what occurred before Mikayla’s death. Strothers said Mikayla was found hanging from a tree by a belt and she believes her daughter was killed just hours after she was assaulted by a group of teenagers. Strothers and local activists also raised concerns with how police and the district attorney have handled the case so far.
‘My bright and shining’ star,’ Mikayla Miller’s mother tells crowd at Hopkinton rally
“I want a full and transparent investigation,” Strothers said Thursday as she disputed some details of authorities’ account of what happened.
“I don’t want to be a vigilante in this,” Strothers said. “I don’t want to have to spend all day on the phone getting and passing along evidence in order for justice to be served. What I want is for the criminal justice system to work.”
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan held a news conference Tuesday, saying her office has not reached a final conclusion in the case as the medical examiner has not yet ruled on the cause and manner of Mikayla’s death.
Ryan denied any wrongdoing by her office and pushed back against “the notion that this office has in somehow neglected Mikalya’s case, or worse – so much worse – has engaged in some sort of cover-up” due to her race or sexual orientation.
Who was Mikayla Miller?
Mikayla, 16, loved to write, play basketball and planned to attend a historically Black college or university and later become a journalist, Strothers said.
“She was a good listener and had a kind heart. Although she was only 16 years old, she gave better advice to others in times of need than I did,” Strothers said.
Srothers also described her daughter as a funny and caring teen who loved the ocean and camping.
“Nothing I say today is going to take away the pain that we all are experiencing in this new world without Mikayla,” she told the crowd Thursday. “But my hope is that by sharing a little bit about her life, our life, it will help you get to know more about her.”
During her news conference, Ryan indicated Mikayla was a member of the LGBTQ community. Strothers said her daughter’s identity “has no relevance to getting justice.”
What happened before Mikayla Miller died?
Ryan and Strothers both said Mikayla was assaulted hours before her death when a group of five other teenagers arrived at Mikayla’s apartment complex. Strothers said two were 18-years-old, and on a GoFundMe webpage, said the teens were white. Ryan said the teens were “a variety of races” and her office does not have any evidence, “positive or negative,” indicating race played a role in the assault. Ryan later clarified in an interview with GBH News the teens were white and Latinx.
According to Ryan, four teens entered a common clubhouse at the complex as a fifth was outside the evening of April 17. Mikayla had already been at the clubhouse with two friends, who left before the group of teens joined Mikayla.
DA disputes wrongdoing:No coverup in investigation of Mikayla Miller’s death
While the four teens — one of whom is a girl Mikayla had a relationship with — were inside, Mikayla got into an “altercation” with one boy and one girl, Ryan said.
At 7:20 p.m., Mikayla’s mother called police and said her daughter was “jumped.” Mikayla told police that she was pushed and punched in the face. She had a bloody lip, which matched what she told police, Ryan said.
Police left at 7:43 p.m. and spoke to one of the girls who was at the clubhouse, then returned and discovered damage outside and inside the clubhouse.
Ryan said an investigation into the assault remains open, but no charges were pending.
Mikayla’s mother went to bed between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. and thought her daughter was home, Ryan said. But Mikayla left at some point, according to a “health app” on her phone, Ryan said.
“Mikayla’s cellphone indicated between 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., the phone traveled 1,316 steps, which is the approximate distance from Mikayla’s home and where her body would be subsequently be located,” the district attorney said.
However, Ryan said investigators can’t say with certainty the 1,316 steps were to the area where she was later found: “We only know that between 9 and 10 o’clock she took 1,316 steps. Where that went or how that went, we don’t know that.”
A jogger found Mikayla’s body the following morning just off a walking path, and called police.
Strothers on Thursday, however, said the information about the number of steps Mikayla walked was “untrue” and her phone could not track her steps.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Meghan Kelly, a spokesperson for Ryan’s office, stood by Ryan’s statement that the steps came from a health app and declined to comment further.
Strothers also said Ryan’s office delayed contacting her after Mikayla’s death and accused local and state police of lying to her family. Hopkinton Police did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment and state police referred USA TODAY to Ryan’s office
Initial report on Mikayla’s death:DA’s Office says death of Hopkinton girl, 16, is not considered suspicious
Strothers said she wanted to see the police reports from Mikayla’s assault and from when her body was found as well as forensic evidence from the belt from which Mikayla was found hanging. She also said she wanted Mikayla’s personal items returned.
According to the GoFundMe webpage, Strothers said police “prematurely concluded” Mikayla died by suicide, as initial statements form authorities indicated the death was not ruled suspicious.
Strothers also said she wanted anyone involved in the case, including the five teens, to be fully investigated.
In comments earlier this week, Ryan said the whereabouts of the four teens who had been in the clubhouse during the altercation were accounted for, using cell phone data, digital evidence and witness statements. They were not in the area around where Mikayla’s body was found, Ryan said.
‘Unthinkable’: Massachusetts community frustrated
Hundreds of people flooded the Hopkinton Town Common late Thursday afternoon, standing largely silent as they listened to a group of speakers. Many held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for Mikayla.”
Many said they were there to support the family and honor Mikayla. Others said they were there for support, but wanted justice and answers.
“I can’t believe we’re just finding out about this, and we wouldn’t have if she was a white kid,” said Hannah Chamber-Lindquist. “People would have burned down the town if she were a white kid.”
Reaction to Mikayla’s death:What people are saying about the investigation
Monica Cannon-Grant, founder of the nonprofit Violence in Boston, in an interview with WGBH, called on Ryan to step down and said the FBI should investigate the case.
The case has also drawn comment from Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., saying, “There needs to be a full, transparent, independent investigation into her death.”
Ryan vowed to release all information in the case once the investigation is concluded and with the permission of Mikayla’s family.
She repeatedly said information was preliminary and the investigation was ongoing while officials await a medical examiner’s report.
“I understand that you certainly would want to know immediately exactly what would have happened in your child’s last moment, and it is a great disappointment always that we cannot immediately give families those answers,” Ryan said Tuesday.
Ryan said the medical examiner’s office was still processing the evidence and the time it has taken to do so since Mikayla’s death was not unusual.
Jake Wark, a spokesperson for state office of chief medical examiner, referred USA TODAY to Ryan’s office when asked for a timeline of when the information would be released.