The FBI said it is reviewing the hanging death of a black, Muslim teen after the medical examiner changed the cause of death from suicide to undetermined following pleas from family.
According to KIRO 7, the bureau confirmed in a statement that it “is communicating with our police partners. We are aware of circumstances of the individual’s death and will review them with consideration of federal law. If warranted, we may conduct further investigation.”
The bureau then went on to caution that “a review does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation.”
However, any involvement of the bureau must seem like hope to the family of 18-year-old Ben Keita, who were left with several unanswered questions when he disappeared Nov. 26, only for his body to be found hanging from a tree in a wooded area near his Lake Stevens, Wash., home in January.
“[He had] no history of depression, anxiety, any psychological breakdown at all, so he was a very ... happy young man,” Keita’s father, Ibrahima, said, according to the news station.
“We believe that somewhere, someone must know something about this case, and we urge people to come forward and contact the police,” he added, according to Q13 Fox.
Back in November, Keita seemingly vanished without his car, wallet or phone. When his hanged body was found two months later near his home, the Snohomish County medical examiner concluded that his death was a suicide.
After his family pressed for more information, however, the medical examiner later changed the cause of death to undetermined. The medical examiner cited two reasons for the change in cause of death, the first being that a K-9 unit searched the same area weeks earlier and did not find the body; and second, that the rope from which Keita was hanged was tied an unusual 50 feet high in the tree.
A coalition led by the Washington Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations stepped in at that point, asking the FBI to investigate, KIRO 7 notes.
“We are careful not to rush to judgment,” the Rev. Kele Brown, from the Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle, said, according to the news station. “Historically, lynchings were often deemed quickly as suicide without the benefit of thorough inquiry.”
Keita’s family added that four co-workers were not interviewed before Lake Stevens police closed the investigation.
“We just want to make sure that the expertise, the experience and the human resources of the FBI are brought to make sure everything is comprehensively investigated, no stone is left unturned,” Washington CAIR Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari added.