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Muslim teen found hanged in woods hadn't attended school for 3 weeks

Ben Keita, 18, was found hanged in the woods in Lake Stevens, a suburb north of Seattle.
Ibrahima Keita
Ben Keita, 18, was found hanged in the woods in Lake Stevens, a suburb north of Seattle.

Police continue to investigate the death of a Muslim teenager who was found hanging from a high branch in the woods north of Seattle.

Ben Keita, 18, was found hanging by a rope on Jan. 9. He had been missing since November.

On Thursday, the Lake Stevens Police Department put out a statement saying its investigation is “active and ongoing to determine the circumstances of Ben's death.”

The FBI and Lake Stevens Police maintain, however, that evidence collected so far show no indication of criminal wrongdoing. His death was initially ruled a suicide, although the medical examiner for Snohomish County now says his death is “inconclusive.”

Dr. Stanley Adams, associate medical examiner, explained in a new report signed Jan. 26:

“Although at the autopsy I did not see any evidence of trauma beyond the evidence of hanging, the circumstances of the very high tree branch, uncertain location of the decedent for the 6 weeks prior to discovery (with a report that the area where the body was found had been previously searched), and lack of any reported suicidal ideation or attempts makes a definitive classification of the manner as suicide uncertain.”

Keita’s death hit a nerve at a national level this week. News stories about his death and the police investigation went viral this week – two months after he was found. He is black, raised Muslim, and his parents have expressed concern, because their son had no history of mental illness.

“No history of depression, anxiety, any psychological break down at all, so he was a very young, happy young man,” said Keita’s dad, Ibrahima Keita.

“He was planning to graduate this year from Lake Stevens High School,” Ibrahima Keita said. “He was already in the Running Start program at Everett Community College and he was dreaming of becoming a medical doctor and work as a medical examiner. Now those dreams are over.”

In a statement, Lake Stevens Police Chief John Dyer asked for any information, no matter how small or seemingly trivial, that might help give police a better idea of what happened in the days leading to Keita’s death.

“At this point, the investigation has not uncovered any indication of a criminal act, but we are asking the community to help shed light on Ben’s death.

We ask the public not to hesitate, worrying that a piece of information may be too small.”

They do know that Keita left his home in the early hours of Nov. 25. He was a Running Start student at a nearby community college, although he hadn’t been to school for three weeks, according to Lake Stevens Police.

According to the Herald of Everett, Keita had sickle cell anemia. His family has lived in Lake Stevens for 17 years.

On the day he went missing, he didn’t show up to work at McDonald’s. He was reported missing on Nov. 26. Police immediately activated their missing person protocol.

Police are asking for information about why he stopped going to work and school, and what his activities might have been. They are also interested in any disputes or arguments he might have had in recent months. 

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