Amani Kildea — full name Amanuel Tamirat Kildea — was the 20-year-old adopted son of a pastor and his wife who was found dead in Morris County, New Jersey, according to the Daily Record. Kildea’s death was originally ruled a suicide by the Morris County Medical Examiner’s Office, but pushback from activists, including a Morristown chapter of Black Lives Matter, has raised doubts about that determination.
According to Lieutenant Chris List of Morris County Park Police, a visitor spotted Kildea’s body hanging from a tree in Morris County Park at around 2:47 p.m. on June 28, the Christian Post reported. The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit is still investigating the case, according to Parsippany Focus.
Kildea is one of four Black men from around the country to be found hanging in the last two months.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kildea Was Adopted
Kildea was adopted from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the age of 5, the Christian Post reported. He grew up the son of Janice Kildea and her husband, Tom Kildea, who is also the senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Succasunna.
According to his obituary, although his native language was Amharic, he quickly picked up English and he was also funny.
He was a West Morris Central High School graduate from Long Valley, New Jersey, and according to Parsippany Focus, he was planning on attending James Madison University in the fall of 2020.
An article about Kildea in Morristown Green described him as goofy and full of life. In February, he graduated from military police basic training in the Army Reserves. “He made basic training fun, I miss it because of him. His big smile and dumb jokes…It was impossible not to love him,” an Army friend named Noah Brammer posted. “I just wish he would’ve reached out to his family and friends. He never ever acted like he was depressed or talked about it”
“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,” his obituary read.
2. Kildea Was A Gifted Athlete
Kildea was a football player for the West Morris Central Wolfpack and for the high school’s basketball team.
Amani was a natural athlete; he loved basketball the most. He would have liked to have been a great football player, but he was also wonderfully and beautifully slender. (A distinct disadvantage.) As a child, he was happiest with a friend and a ball.
His obituary also stated that Kildea was “exceptionally bright,” that he was “terrific at games” and that he hated to lose.
One of Kildea’s high school friends, Owen Caulfield, was quoted in Morristown Green as calling him “funny, ballsy, caring, friendly, smart and empathetic.”
“No matter what the circumstance, you would always have a smile on your face, even when we were getting in trouble (which was pretty often),” Caulfield said. “You held our nut job friend group together like glue, every second spent with you was fun.”
3. Kildea Wanted to Be in Law Enforcement
Parsippany Focus reported that Kildea wanted to work in special operations for the FBI or CIA, which is why he helped kickstart the sting operations with his friends. According to the article, “they have exposed at least 30 pedophiles in Morris County and other surrounding areas. This work has led to multiple arrests.”
The Black Lives Matter Morristown founder and many others believe this work may be related to his death. “Amani’s work in the community to expose sexual predators was brave, but dangerous, leaving him vulnerable to retaliation from those criminals,” Black Lives Matter Morristown founder T’Anna Kimbrough told Morristown Green.
Kildea had graduated from the Army Reserves Basic Training in February 2020 and, the article reported, was going to be a military policeman.
4. Kildea’s Death Has Remained Controversial
Kildea’s family named suicide as his cause of death in the obituary, writing:
Amani cherished his time with his friends, who meant the world to him. Everyone who met him, who knew him, young and old, admired him and loved him. He doubted that, but we knew it to be true.
Although life with Amani was often challenging at home, we loved him dearly. His departure from us and from this world is an unspeakable tragedy for us all. He will be a part of our family forever, and we trust he is safe in the arms of Jesus. O dear, sweet boy, Amani! We love you!
Many have written social media posts criticizing how quickly the family has accepted his death being ruled a suicide.
Others have cited evidence as to why they are dubious and have demanded further investigation. Taylor Packwood, who created a Change.org petition to further investigate his death and has gathered more than 182,000 signatures, questioned the suicide theory:
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. This clearly could have been a racially charged lynching and Amani deserves better than to have his death ruled a suicide without further investigation. Amani was an adopted child of white parents from Ethiopia. He was an active vigilante in his community helping to bring child predators to justice. The IG account associated with him and his friends is @Pedogotcaught. This was not even a factor when considering his death. You cannot physically hang yourself from a tree. No ladder, no nothing.
According to his obituary, Kildea is survived by his parents, Tom and Janice Kildea; siblings James and Jennifer; his grandfather, James Muller; his birth mother, Genet, in Ethiopia; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
5. The Investigation Into Kildea’s Death Remains Ongoing
Morris County Police released a statement, which read in part:
Contrary to the statements made in social media and elsewhere, the investigation remains open and has not concluded.
Our initial statement by this office was intended to preliminarily and expeditiously inform the public that we and multiple other law enforcement agencies, including the Morris County Park Police, Sheriff’s Office, and Medical Examiner’s Office, have been working with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit to investigate the circumstances of Mr. Kildea’s death.
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.
Social media users have criticized the police response to the death, and Kimbrough told Morristown Green she wants an independent autopsy report as well as to know whether there was a suicide note, the specifics of how he hung himself, his mental health history, cell phone records and other materials.
“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,” Kimbrough said in a statement on Instagram:
Without these details, our community will not be able to heal nor can we be reassured that Amani’s family has received the justice and the due process that they are guaranteed under the laws of New Jersey and this Country.
It appears there was a clear and unsubstantiated rush to deem this hanging a suicide rather than conduct a thorough investigation as to the possible lynching of a Black man in Morristown in 2020 – yet another in a series of unexplained hangings that have occurred in recent weeks.