Calling her daughter “bright, funny, loving, caring,” an emotional Calvina Strothers paid tribute to Mikayla Miller and called for a “full and transparent investigation” into the teenager’s death during Thursday’s rally that drew hundreds to the Town Common.
“She was my bright and shining star in this crazy world,” Strothers said. “She was a good listener and had a kind heart. And although was only 16 years old, she gave better advice to others in times of need than I did. She was calm and laid back, and gave her opinion only when asked. But when she did, you knew the truth was coming.
“She was the mediator and always brought both sides together. It was draining, but she wanted peace and serenity. She wanted everyone to just be happy, sometimes to the detriment of herself. She was very altruistic. And although I would get mad sometimes, that was Mikayla.”
Strothers said her daughter wanted to go to a historically Black college or university (HBCU) with her eye on becoming a journalist. The Hopkinton High School sophomore enjoyed playing basketball and “loved food, especially buffalo chicken anything.”
Miller was found the morning of April 18 on a trail in the woods off West Main Street. According to the family’s supporters, she was hanging from a tree with a belt around her neck.
The previous day, Miller was involved in an altercation with a former girlfriend and three other teens in which she was punched in the face. DA Marian Ryan has said there is no evidence the teens were in the area from the time when Miller left her apartment later that evening to when she was found, and her office stated early on that it was “not a suspicious death investigation and there is no foul play.” Miller’s family and supporters, however, have stated they believe she was murdered.
Strothers on Thursday criticized the Hopkinton Police, an investigator from the State Police and the DA’s office.
“Given everything that has transpired over the past few weeks, I want to make sure that I am clear about my goals in all of this: It’s to have full transparency and get full justice for my daughter, Mikayla,” she said, adding: “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 in order for justice to be served. What I want is for the criminal justice system to work.”
Strothers also questioned Hopkinton’s reputation as one of the safest cities in America.
“The reason this town is deemed one of the safest in America, in my opinion, is not because crimes do not occur but because crime is only selectively reported in this community,” she said to widespread applause.
Rally organizer Monica Cannon-Grant, CEO of the victim support organization Violence in Boston, opened her remarks by giving credit to the residents of Hopkinton in an apparent attempt to discourage supporters from painting the entire town — which has very few Black residents — as racist.
“The truth of the matter is that the people living in the town of Hopkinton, a lot of them have been extremely supportive, have messaged, offered water, their time, their space, their condolences,” she said. “So whatever the narrative that you see on social media, I know for a fact because you guys have flooded my inbox with support for this family, so thank you.”
Toward the conclusion of the event, Cannon-Grant said rally goers had “homework,” which was to “demand an independent investigation per a request of the family.” She provided the DA’s phone number and requested people call.
Cannon-Grant urged those in attendance not to go home and be satisfied with simply showing their faces at the rally.
Said Cannon-Grant: “Don’t come out here today with a Mikayla sign saying you support us, go home and eat your cheese sandwich and say, ‘I showed up for the [Black people].’ ”
The event drew a crowd of about 600 people along with widespread coverage by regional media. Among those on hand were former Rep. Joe Kennedy, Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer, state Reps. Russell Holmes, Evandro Carvalho, Chynah Tyler and Carolyn Dykema, and state Sen. Karen Spilka. Dykema and Spilka, both of whom represent areas that include Hopkinton, previously issued statements in support of the family and calling for transparency in the investigation.
Former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson was one of the speakers, and he led the crowd in chants of “Mikayla Miller” and “Black Lives Matter.” Sean Ellis, who was imprisoned for 22 years before his murder conviction was overturned due to police and prosecutorial misconduct, also spoke, saying, “We’re coming for the facts.”
Three individuals wearing motorcycle gang jackets apparently attempted to disrupt the event by loudly revving their engines early in the rally, but they appeared to be directed away from the area by police.
At the conclusion of the rally, a small group of protestors moved onto Main Street and briefly blocked traffic before Cannon-Grant moved them off the road.
Strothers briefly spoke with the media before leaving and, asked what comes next, said her work will continue.
“What’s next is to fight for justice for my daughter,” she said.