|Questions have remained about this case for 3 years, 5 months, and 9 days.|
Amani Kildea was like any other young man in New Jersey. He’d played both football and basketball for West Morris Central High School and, at 20 years old in 2020, he was planning on attending college.
By most accounts, Kildea had everything going for him… until he was found dead, hanging in a local park near his New Jersey home. Was it really a suicide and Kildea hung himself, like the authorities have stated, or is there something more to his death, as many activists have suggested? (As always, if you’re struggling, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.)
Table of Contents
About Amanuel “Amani” Kildea
At the age of five, Amani Kildea was adopted by Tom Kildea, a pastor, and his wife, Janice Kildea, from Ethiopia. It’s not clear why he left Ethiopia, but he thrived in America, participating in a number of sports including basketball and football.
“Amani was sensitive, tender-hearted, gentle and kind. He was a great listener, and he loved to listen to family stories. He felt deeply, observed closely. He was broken in ways that very few could see or would ever know.”Family Statement (Source: Chrisitan Post)
When looking toward his future, Kildea wanted to pursue a career with the FBI or CIA. He even graduated from basic training as an MP in the United States Army Reserves in February 2020. He planned on attending James Madison University starting in the fall of 2020. With so much going for Kildea between athletics and academics, it’s hard to understand why he ended up deceased in a local park.
The Discovery and Investigation
It was a warm Sunday in June when a park-goer made a gruesome discovery. A call came into authorities at 2:47 PM and investigators were sent out to the scene. It was June 28, 2020, and a body was found in the Sugarloaf section of Lewis Morris County Park in New Jersey.
Kildea’s body was reportedly found in nearly a seated position at the base of a tree, the rope wrapped around his neck, and the body suspended several inches off the ground. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, there were “no signs of a struggle.”
According to some news sources, a number of different agencies worked on the case, including:
- Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit
- Morris County Sheriff’s Office CSI
- Morris County Park Police
- Morris County Medical Examiner’s Office
Items Near the Body
Some items were found with Kildea’s body, including his wallet and cell phone. A backpack and laptop computer were placed near his body as well. His car was found in a parking lot near Lewis Morris County Park.
In addition to the items found with Kildea, authorities confirmed that he’d purchased some rope from a local home improvement store earlier on the day of June 28. They also said that he was alone at the time of purchasing this item.
On the laptop found with Kildea’s body, investigators found several searches regarding suicide (and again, if you’re struggling yourself, please reach out to the Suicide Hotline).
Kildea was involved in the the anti-pedophile group “Pedo Got Caught,” a connection that some have suggested might’ve led to his untimely death. The group aims to catfish and expose child predators, activities that might’ve put Kildea in danger if he ran into one of the predators who happened to have a weapon.
Death Ruled a Suicide
Three days after Kildea’s body was found, the manner of death was released as suicide. The medical examiner didn’t note any additional injuries or trauma to the body aside from the damage done by the rope.
After the manner of death was released, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Morristown organization rejected the decision and demanded further investigation into the case. In a statement given on Instagram, they wrote:
“We have been forced to conclude that this investigation was insufficient given Prosecutor Knapp’s failure to provide the Morris County community with the pertinent details of Amani’s death.”BLM Morristown Statement (Source: Instagram)
The main argument was that, because of Kildea’s involvement with the “Pedo Got Caught” group, authorities might’ve had it out for the young man.
According to BLM Morristown, because the group exposed a mayor’s son and an active-duty police member, individuals in law enforcement might’ve had a reason to harm Kildea. BLM Morristown wrote: “Amani’s work in the community to expose sexual predators was brave, but dangerous, leaving him vulnerable to retaliation from those criminals.”
Social Media Outrage
After the Instagram post by BLM Morristown, hundreds of people wrote social media posts criticizing the investigation and the fact that Kildea’s family accepted his manner of death so easily. A Change.org petition was started, stating:
“Amani was found an hour away from where he lives. His death doesn’t make any sense and I am asking you to sign this petition to bring to light the racial injustices black men face every day.”Change.org Petition (Source: Change.org)
One of the points the petition brings up is the lack of a ladder or step-stool that was used to help get Kildea into the tree to hang himself: “You cannot physically hang yourself from a tree. No ladder, no nothing.” The petition has over 800,000 signatures as of January 2023.
In response to the outpouring of social media anger, the Morris County Police released a statement:
“Contrary to the statements made in social media and elsewhere, the investigation remains open and has not concluded… As of this time, no evidence of a criminal act has yet been found, however, our efforts to determine what occurred remain very active. We have followed and continue to follow all investigative leads and will go where the evidence takes us.”Morris County Police Statement (Source: Heavy)
And that’s where this case unfortunately has ended, for now. Authorities continue to press the story that Kildea committed suicide while activists demand a more thorough investigation.
Theories on What Happened
Unlike many of the cases I write about, this one only has two realistic theories on what happened: either Kildea committed suicide or he was killed and the scene was staged. Although Kildea’s family accepted his death as a suicide, many activists suggest that something more sinister must’ve happened. Let’s look at the possibilities.
Kildea Committed Suicide
Kildea’s family was quick to accept his death as a suicide. They even described him as “broken in ways that very few could see or would ever know” in his obituary.
More evidence pointing to the suicide theory includes the fact that Kildea bought some rope shortly before he was found, and that there were searches regarding suicide on his laptop. If he was struggling with emotional or psychological issues (as his family has hinted at), then the theroy of suicide becomes more plausible.
Some have pointed to the lack of a suicide note as indicating that it wasn’t Kildea who killed himself, but in fact, only a minority of people tend to leave suicide notes according to a number of different studies in Greece, South India, Japan, and the United States.
Someone Killed Kildea and Staged the Scene
Many have suggested that, because of Kildea’s involvement in the “Pedo Got Caught” group, someone took revenge on him and staged the scene to look like a suicide. The Change.org petition for him states: “This clearly could have been a racially charged lynching and Amani deserves better than to have his death ruled a suicide without further investigation.”
It seems possible that someone might’ve done this to Kildea, although it would have been difficult for just one person to overpower an athletic young man. One would think there would have been evidence left at the scene like additional footprints, blood, or something else that would point to perpetrators. However, no such evidence was found according to authorities.
What Do I Think Happened?
Cases that have taken a political tone are always tough to comment on, mostly because no matter what I say, someone is bound to be offended or to disagree. When looking at all the publicly available facts of the case, I’m not convinced that there is some grand conspiracy going on to cover up a teenager’s death. I know it does happen and has happened in the past, but with this case, I don’t see the supporting evidence to conclude that.
Many of the activists calling for a more thorough investigation have suggested that Kildea was lynched, due to him found hanging with a rope around his neck. While this is possible, I don’t think it’s likely, mostly due to the lack of a struggle at the scene.
If Kildea was being forcibly hung against his will, surely there would have been signs of a scuffle near the site. Instead, his backpack and laptop were set neatly down near him. Authorities also didn’t note any extra footprints around the scene nor signs that a ladder or step stool of some kind was used, which undoubtedly would have been needed if someone was trying to force Kildea into the tree against his will.
I do think it’s odd that there were only searches regarding suicide on the day that Kildea’s body was found. One would think that there would have been many more searches in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the actual suicide.
That being said, some studies have been done that show that “the emergence of suicidal thoughts to the accomplishment of a suicide attempt… generally is short.” How short, you might ask? Researchers found that “the period between the first current thought of suicide and the actual attempt had lasted 10 minutes or less.” So it’s certainly possible that Kildea had an impulsive suicidal thought and acted on it, as hard as that might be to hear.
Overall, there are several unanswered questions in this case, but none so unexplainable that suicide can be completely ruled out. A more thorough investigation would probably quell the concerns of many activists, although I’m sure law enforcement would argue that they don’t have the funds to look into the case more thoroughly.
The fact that Kildea’s family so readily accepted the death’s determination as a suicide makes me inclined to believe authorities’ accounts of events, though I agree with some of the activists that there are some odd things about this case.
So far, there haven’t been many updates in this case. It’s unclear if law enforcement intends to investigate further.
July 16, 2020 — BLM Morristown Candlelight Vigil
BLM Morristown held a candlelight vigil for Amani Kildea. The event was held to not only honor his memory but to “begin the healing process” in regards to his death: “Black Lives Matter Morristown would like to provide a safe space for those who want to celebrate the life of Amani Kildea.”
Do You Have Information?
If you have any additional information about what happened to Amani Kildea, please reach out to the Morristown Police Department at (973) 539–0777.
Cold Case Questions
- Do you think Amani’s death was a suicide, or was foul play involved?
- Did authorities do a good enough job of investigating his death?
Let me know your thoughts on this case in the comment section below!
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