After a Black 19-year-old was found dead in what police determined was a suicide, the young man’s grieving family is pushing for more information and questioning the way police have handled the tragedy. According to the family, Derontae Martin was a happy, outgoing, and fun former football player who worked at a restaurant and Walmart. He was found dead after attending a prom party on April 25, as reported by the Associated Press.
The prom party was hosted in the rural home of a middle-aged white man who shared racist posts on Facebook, including one of a Confederate flag. The man also shared a meme that says “Here’s my apology for being white” along with a middle finger. Martin was found dead in the attic of this man’s home, whose name has not been released because he has not been charged with a crime. Martin’s family—and local activists—want answers.
According to a news release, emergency medics and deputies were called to the man’s home at around 3 in the morning on April 25. When they arrived, they found Martin deceased in the attic. According to Madison County Sheriff Katy McCutcheon, the initial autopsy suggested Martin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reviewed the county’s investigation and agreed with the initial ruling of suicide. The news release did not specify who owned the gun in question. It also did not detail how Martin may have gotten the gun into his possession.
The Rev. Darryl Gray, a leader in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, stressed that at minimum, “negligence” is at play. “The whole thing is that it was a suspicious death,” Gray stated. “How and why did Derontae end up in the house at this party, and how did he end up in the attic?”
Martin’s mother, Ericka Lotts, said, “All I do know is that somebody shot him.” She mentioned that at the time of his death, Martin, who was right-handed, had a cast on his right arm, which had been broken. Lotts said she’d heard multiple different accounts of what happened and doesn’t know what to believe.
According to local outlet KMOV 4, Lotts said her son had no known connection to the owner of the home where he was found dead. Lotts shared that her son had traveled to Fredericktown, about 30 miles from where he grew up, and was then found dead in the home near Highway Z. "I told them he wasn't suicidal,” Lotts said. “He was too happy to be suicidal.”
“He was a very loving, fun-filled kid,” Martin’s grandmother, Kimberly Lotts, stated. “He was a loyal, faithful friend to those that he cared about.”
"There are too many questions and not enough answers,” Gray told KMOV 4. “And so that's why I believe that it's a questionable death. … It is a suspicious death.” Gray and Martin’s family have met with the prosecuting attorney for the county to request an additional investigation from the state’s attorney general. No one has been charged or arrested.
You can check out brief interview clips with Lotts and Gray below.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255, 24/7 and is always free and confidential. In addition, here’s a round-up of free mental health resources.