Status Change from ‘Suicide’ to ‘Undetermined’ Prompts FBI Review of Black Teens Hanging Death

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Heeding calls from a Seattle civil rights group, the FBI is reviewing the death of a young Black Muslim man after the manner of his demise was changed to the unusual classification of “undetermined.”

However, the agency’s Seattle office told KIRO7 in a statement that it will do so “with consideration of federal law. If warranted, we may conduct further investigation. A review does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation.”

The body of Ben Keita, 18, was discovered hanging from a tree near his Lake Stevens, Wash., home on Jan. 9. Local police assured KIRO7 that they thoroughly investigated the case before reportedly closing it in February, but Keita’s family believes more needs to be done, noting four co-workers who were not interviewed initially.

In a statement to the New York Daily News, Lake Stevens authorities refuted reports that the case is closed and said they are waiting for crime lab results on the investigation.

Keita’s father, Ibrahima Keita, told the press his son was upbeat ahead of his Nov. 26 disappearance.

“No history of depression, anxiety, any psychological breakdown at all, so he was a very … happy young man,” Ibrahima Keita says.

When Ben Keita’s body was found, no other injuries were observed, leading the medical examiner to conclude his death was a suicide, KIRO7 reported. Facing pressure from the family, the examiner changed his cause of death to “undetermined,” citing two reasons for the switch in the report. One is a K-9 search in the same area weeks earlier did not locate the man’s body and the other is the rope used to hang Ben Keita was strung 50 feet off the ground, which is unusual. That caused an alliance headed by the Washington Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to ask for an FBI investigation.

Rev. Kele Brown, of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church, says the group is “careful not to rush to judgment.”

“Historically, lynchings were often deemed quickly as suicides without the benefit of thorough inquiry,” she says.

The FBI’s Seattle office told KIRO7 in a statement that it will review Ben Keita’s death “with consideration of federal law. If warranted, we may conduct further investigation. A review does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation.”

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