FBI reviewing case of Muslim teen found hanging from tree

Ben Keita

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LAKE STEVENS, Wash. – The FBI is reviewing the death of an 18-year-old Muslim high school student whose body was found hanging from a tree near his home, reports CBS affiliate KIRO.

Ben Keita disappeared from his home in Lake Stevens, north of Seattle, on Nov. 26 and his body was founded in a wooded area in January. According to a statement issued Thursday, Lake Stevens Police say that Keita had not gone to work the day before his disappearance and had not gone to school for about three weeks prior.

Initially, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner concluded he committed suicide, but after his family pressed, the ME changed the cause of death to undetermined. According to the station, the ME’s report gives two reasons for the change -- a K-9 search of the same area weeks earlier failed to find his body, and the rope he was hanged with was tied an unusual 50 feet high in the tree. 

In a statement, the Seattle office of the FBI said it “is communicating with our police partners. We are aware of circumstances of the individual’s death and will review them with consideration of federal law. If warranted, we may conduct further investigation. A review does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation.”  

Keita’s father says his son did not seem suicidal when he disappeared.

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

KIRO reports that a coalition led by the Washington Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the FBI to investigate.

Lake Stevens police said the investigation is “active and ongoing” but has “not uncovered any indication of a criminal act.”

Police are asking the community to help shed light on Keita’s death. Anyone with any information on why he stopped going to work and school; what his activities might have been in the weeks prior to Nov. 26, 2016; on any disputes, arguments, or issues he might have had or anything that might have been overheard or seen that might be relevant to the case is asked to call police.

“We are careful not to rush to judgment,” said the Rev. Kele Brown, of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle. “Historically lynchings were often deemed quickly as suicide without the benefit of thorough inquiry.”

KIRO reports that Keita’s family says among other things there are four co-workers who were not interviewed before the Lake Stevens police closed the investigation.

“We just want to make sure that the expertise, the experience and the human resources of the FBI are brought to make sure everything is comprehensively investigated, no stone is left unturned,” Washington CAIR Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari said.