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‘None of This Makes Sense’: Family Questions Death of Black Missouri Teen Who Died at Home of White Man Who Made Racist Remarks

Derontae Martin’s family is speaking out after his death two weeks ago, following a prom party inside the rural Missouri home of a middle-aged white man, was ruled a suicide.

His loved ones are looking for the truth behind the findings of a preliminary investigation that suggests he took his life in the house’s attic, reports AP News.

The 19-year-old was found in the home on Highway Z in Fredericktown, a town some 60 miles southwest of St. Louis, with a gunshot to the head, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Martin’s relatives said that while that area is around 95 percent white, Martin was popular and outgoing. His mother Ericka Lotts said she found the idea that he committed suicide “unsettling,” telling KMOV, “I told them he wasn’t suicidal. He was too happy to be suicidal.”

“He was just a big kid,” Lotts told the AP. “I told him all the time he was 19, but inside he was about 12.”

Martin’s grandmother Kimberly Lotts called the death “heartbreaking.”

“He wasn’t a kid that caused trouble, ran around or beat up folks, or robbed or stole,” she said. “He wasn’t that kind of a kid. He was a very loving, fun-filled kid. He was a loyal, faithful friend to those that he cared about.”

Ericka Lotts has also questioned how the right-handed Martin, was able to shoot himself with a full cast on his dominant arm. While she’s heard different theories about what occurred, she said all she knows is that “somebody shot him.”

On April 24, Martin attended a prom party that night at a home owned by a man who “mocked foreign accents and defended the Confederate flag on his Facebook account. He also shared a meme displaying a hand extending its middle finger that read, “Here’s my apology for being white,” according to AP News.

The Associated Press is not naming the man because he is not being charged with a crime.

Madison County Sheriff Katy McCutcheon released a statement through the office’s official Facebook account on April 29, that read: “On Sunday, April 25, at approximately 3:01 a.m., Madison County Dispatch received a 911 call from a residence on Hwy Z, in reference to a 21-year-old-male shot in the head and was not conscious.”

McCutcheon said in the statement that Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Madison County EMS, and Cherokee Pass Fire Department were dispatched to the location, where they found Martin dead in the attic of the residence.

“An autopsy was performed on the deceased on Monday, April 26, at the St. Francois County Morgue in Farmington,” said McCutcheon. “The initial investigation was led by the Madison County Sheriff’s and Madison County Coroner’s Office with the assistance of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.”

The initial evidence indicated he died from a “self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head,” according to McCutcheon.

The news release did not identify the gun’s owner, nor how Martin received it, AP News noted.

“Once the final autopsy results and all witness statements have been received, the complete report will be submitted to the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office for further review,” McCutcheon said.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol, tasked with reviewing Madison County’s investigation, was in agreement with the preliminary finding of suicide. However, they are still in pursuit of additional witnesses, according to patrol Sgt. Clark Parrott.

Racial injustice activists have gathered in support of questioning the findings, recently staging a protest march in Fredericktown in which counter-protestors “yelled racial slurs” and threw two nooses into the crowd.

The Rev. Darryl Gray, a St. Louis activist leader who asserts Martin’s death is “suspicious,” said they are not deterred and will continue fighting to uncover the real cause of death.

“Why did he end up in this particular house? If he ended up in the attic and that’s the story, how did he end up in the attic? If the story is that he was on drugs, how did he get the drugs, who gave him the drugs, who witnessed this?” Gray told KMOV.

“There are too many questions and not enough answers and so that’s why I believe that it’s a questionable death, it is a suspicious death.”

Gray and Ericka Lotts recently met with Madison County Prosecuting Attorney M. Dwight Robbins, to ask for an additional, external investigation from Missouri’s attorney general.

Meanwhile, on social media, Facebook users who read the official statement from Sheriff McCutcheon also expressed open skepticism over the current facts of the case, as well as annoyance about others’ rush to judgment.

“None of this makes sense,” one user said. “This entire situation and prior situations should be under extreme investigation. 😒 Prayers for family and friends.Sounds like the community could use some prayers as well”

Another commenter was emphatic about their certainty that the owner of the home was bad news, a fact they said was well known in the community.

“Come on and do your job instead of covering up…,” they wrote. “I back the blue 100% but this is just WRONG!! How can we back the blue when they ain’t even doing there job! All the families of the bodies found need justice.”

Alternatively, some users recommended a wait-and-see attitude and commended the officers for their work thus far.

“Sheriff Katy thanks for all you do,” a user wrote. “I am sure with all the different authorities involved, everything is being handled professionally.”

“Thank you, some people think it’s all done as fast as a snap of the fingers,” another said. “There are so many different entities involved in this and everyone is going to have to report on it. It takes time to go through all of that to give a final report.”

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