The Everett Herald reported on Monday, January 9, 2017, the Lake Stevens, Washington Police Department found a dead body in a wooded area near the 600 block of 89th Drive Southeast in Lake Stevens. The following day, January 10, 2017, the coroner identified the body as African American Muslim teenager, 18 year old Ben Keita. The coroner quickly ruled Ben’s death as a suicide.
While Ben’s body had been found hanged, the coroner stated there were no other injuries.
Ben’s family lived less than three blocks away from where his body was found, on the 8900 block of 8th Street Southeast. He was the second of four children. He was last seen on the Morning of November 26, 2017 wearing a gray and blue hoodie, gray sweat pants, and blue and gray shoes. He’d left his car, his phone, and his wallet at home and didn’t use social media.
Shortly after Ben disappeared, his family reported him to the Lake Stevens Police Department and the search began. At the time of his disappearance, Ben was a registered high school student in the Lake Stevens School District in the district’s Running Start program attending Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. He worked at the local Lake Stevens McDonald’s.
When Ben’s body was found, he’d been missing for almost two months.
Once the coroner ruled Ben’s death a suicide, his family protested. While Ben was taking prescription medication for a health condition, he had no history of anxiety or depression. His father, Ibrahimi Keita, described Ben as a very happy young man.
Further, the area where Ben’s body was found had been searched weeks before by the police using K-9 units and his body wasn’t found. In fact, the Everett Herald reported that Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue had gone through the forested areas near Ben’s home at least twice and found no sign of his body. When Ben’s body was finally found hanging…the rope used to hang him had been tied 50 feet high in the tree branches.
Given the suspicious circumstances, a coalition led by the Washington Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations contacted the FBI and requested they investigate this as a possible hate crime. Kiro 7 news interviewed Reverend Kele Brown of Plymouth Congregational Church of Seattle who stated: “We are careful not to rush to judgment,”… “Historically lynchings were often deemed quickly as suicide without the benefit of thorough inquiry.”
When interviewed, Arsalan Bukhari, the executive director Washington Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told KIRO 7: “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.”
Even more concerning is that Keita’s family states there were discrepancies in the Lake Stevens police investigation…including the fact the police failed to interview at least four of Ben’s co-workers at McDonald’s before the police stopped their investigation.
The Seattle office of the FBI released the following statement to KIRO 7 News: “(the FBI) 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.”
As a result, the Lake Stevens police have now decided to keep Ben’s case open. After pressure from the family and community activists, the coroner changed his findings from suicide to undetermined.
Ben’s body has been sent to the Washington State Crime Lab for further investigation.
This is a deeply disturbing case. The wooded area where Ben’s body was found was very close to both an elementary school and adjacent to a thriving suburban neighborhood. That wooded area isn’t very large and it was searched…multiple times…with K-9 units…they never found any sign of his body…the dogs never picked up his scent.
It appears someone may have placed his body there after the searchers gave up. This, when combined with the Keita family’s concern the Lake Stevens Police Department may not have done a thorough investigation, raises a lot of red flags. With hate crimes against Muslims on the rise across the nation and minorities and immigrants being targeted for harassment, Ben Keita’s death deserves a lot more attention than its received so far.