The mother of Mikayla Miller told a crowd of hundreds at a vigil in their Massachusetts hometown Thursday that the 16-year-old's death last month left her shattered, then demanded transparency in the ongoing investigation that has yet to conclude how the teenager died.
The Hopkinton town common was packed with people who repeatedly chanted Mikayla's name and who were asked to reach out to District Attorney Marian Ryan's office to demand an independent investigation over what Mikayla's mother, Calvina Strothers, and other advocates say were delays in the probe and pushback against the family's search for answers.
"I don't want to be a vigilante in this, I don't want to have to spend all day on the phone getting and passing along evidence … what I want is for the criminal justice system to work," Strothers said.
But she began by speaking about her daughter, with whom she had an "indescribable" bond that took them on cherished trips to Maine and New Hampshire and prompted the teenager to bring her mother chamomile tea every night, even when she didn't ask for it.
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"My daughter was bright, funny, loving, caring and loved me to death," Strothers said.
Mikayla was an aspiring journalist who wanted to attend a historically Black college or university, calm, forthright and gave incredible advice, her mother said.
"She was my bright and shining star in this crazy world," Strothers told the crowd, sometimes overcome by emotion.
But she also pushed back on what Ryan has said about the investigation into her daughter's death, which came hours after she was involved in a fight with other teenagers.
"Due to the lack of urgency for some, I've had to not only be the grieving mother but also put pressure on the DA, Marian Ryan, who I did not hear from until 12 days after Mikayla's death," Strothers said.
At a news conference Tuesday, her first on Mikayla's death, Ryan said she'd been speaking with a representative for the family since soon after Mikayla's death. Pledging a full and transparent investigation and insisting her office was had been engaged from the outset, she also laid out some of the information gathered so far, including that Mikayla's phone said she'd traveled a distance of about 1,300 steps before the death -- about the distance from her home where her body was found on April 18.
But Strothers said that she'd found the information on how many steps Mikayla had traveled was impossible to have been pulled from the girl's phone, based on what she'd been told by someone working for its manufacturer. She also said she wants to see a forensic report on the belt found with her daughter's body.
"When they came to my house that morning, without any investigation, they immediately drew a conclusion and said that my daughter took her own life," Strothers told reporters after the rally, adding that if they had waited to draw a conclusion, there wouldn't be the need for a rally.
The rally was peaceful and drew a handful of politicians, including state Senate President Karen Spilka, though the Hopkinton Select Board held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss security for the event, so large that there was expected to be enhanced police presence at Hopkinton schools. Students were dismissed early and afterschool sporting events canceled.
"At this time, we have concerns about volume: there will be great numbers of attendees and exceedingly heavy traffic in the downtown area, perhaps making the area significantly restricted to the flow of traffic, including our buses,” said School Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh ahead of the event.
Three high-profile Massachusetts officials released statements Wednesday calling for a thorough, transparent investigation; Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Attorney General Maura Healey and Spilka.
Ryan on Tuesday acknowledged unsubstantiated rumors swirling in the community that Mikayla, who was Black, was murdered and that race may have played a part. She said it was too soon to say what caused Mikayla's death and added that there is no evidence either way that race was involved in it.
"Mikayla Miller, as many of you may have seen, was a beautiful child. She was a cherished daughter, a gifted student, a talented athlete and a loyal friend," she said, adding that her death was "an unspeakable tragedy."
Prosecutors continue to investigate after Mikayla was found dead. Ryan said the investigation has involved dozens of witness interviews, analysis of devices and surveillance video.
It shows that the teenager was involved in a fight between her and two teenagers in a group of four the day before her death, and that someone Mikayla was in a relationship with was present for it, according to Ryan. They were at an unsupervised clubhouse in the apartment complex on Revolution Way where the Mikayla lived.
Hours later, Mikayla's mother called police to say that her daughter had been "jumped," Ryan said. The teenager told officers that she'd been pushed and punched in the face, and the officers noted she had a bloodied lip, then interviewed another girl involved in the fight. They also noted some damage at the apartment complex.
On Saturday night between 9 and 10 p.m., Mikayla left her home, according to an app on her phone. She was found dead by a jogger in a wooded area off a walking path Sunday morning, according to Ryan.
She said the app showed Mikayla had traveled about 1,316 steps between 9 and 10 p.m., a distance that's consistent with the distance between her home and where she was found.
Investigators reviewed GPS and other evidence to determine where the teenagers involved in the fight were Saturday night into Sunday, according to Ryan. The two girls were at their locations from 8 p.m. into the morning, while the two boys went with a family member to Charlton and then Sturbridge by 9:06 p.m. Another girl who'd been outside the clubhouse when the fight happened was at home, witnesses said.
But Ryan also noted that, "As to who else may have been in the woods or that area on Sunday, we do not have any information as to that." The last person she communicated with on her phone was another girl who hadn't been involved in the fight, around 9 p.m.
The investigation into whether Mikayla was assaulted during the fight on Saturday also remains ongoing, Ryan said.
There were some questions that remained unanswered at the briefing, along with the cause of death and whether race was a factor. Ryan said she wasn't prepared to answer whether bullying may have been involved and wasn't able to say how Mikayla traveled between her home and the place where she was found.
Hopkinton police also issued their own statement Tuesday, saying they are working closely with the district attorney's office and they are aware of the concerns expressed by many in the community.
"The Hopkinton community mourns the tragic loss of 16-year-old Mikayla Miller. Our most heartfelt thoughts go out to her family and all those who care for her," the department said.