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Black teen fatally shot at prom party held at white man’s rural home

Derontae Martin’s death was ruled a suicide, but his family doesn’t believe the ruling.

Crime Scene Christopher Sadowski

A family in Missouri is seeking answers in the death of a Black teen who was shot and killed at a prom party.

As the Associated Press reported, 19-year-old Derontae Martin went to his former Park Hills neighborhood on April 24 to attend a house party, which was hosted in the home of a white middle-aged man with a history of defending the Confederate flag, per his Facebook account. At around 3 a.m. the next day (April 25), emergency responders were called to the home where the teen was found dead in the attic.

According to Madison County Sheriff Katy McCutcheon, an initial autopsy ruled Martin’s death a suicide, specifically noting he died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol confirmed the suicide ruling after conducting their own post-mortem examination. There are still questions surrounding the owner of the gun, and when and how it got in Martin’s hands. His mother, Ericka Lotts, questions the ruling because her son, who was right-handed, had a cast on his right arm at the time of his death.

Activists have since come together to question the investigation and demand justice for Martin in several protests. Per activist Rev. Darryl Gray, during a demonstration last week in Fredericktown — the mainly white area where the party was held — protesters were called racial slurs by anti-demonstrators, who also tossed two nooses at them.

“The whole thing is that it was a suspicious death,” Gray said of Martin’s death. “How and why did Derontae end up in the house at this party, and how did he end up in the attic? At the very least...There is negligence here.”

Lotts said she’s heard different accounts of what went on the night her son was killed, but she’s not sure which one to believe. “All I do know is that somebody shot him,” she said.

Gray, Lotts and Madison County Prosecuting Attorney M. Dwight Robbins have called on the Missouri attorney general’s office to investigate the 19-year-old’s death. It is not clear whether Attorney General Eric Schmitt will actually get involved.

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