‘Zero evidence’ of crime in Ben Keita’s death

Ben M. Keita (Lake Stevens Police)                                Ben M. Keita (Lake Stevens police)

Ben M. Keita (Lake Stevens Police) Ben M. Keita (Lake Stevens police)

LAKE STEVENS — After weeks of renewed investigation, there is “zero evidence” of any crime in the death of 18-year-old Ben Keita, Lake Stevens Police Chief John Dyer said.

Investigators are getting closer to wrapping up their work, Dyer said Friday. Findings by the Lake Stevens police have been reviewed by the FBI and the state Attorney General’s Office.

The detectives still urge anyone with information to come forward. They want to know why Keita, a Running Start student, stopped attending classes before he left his home and disappeared in November. His body was found in nearby woods in January. He died from hanging, and an autopsy initially ruled it a suicide. That later was changed to undetermined, meaning there was not enough information to draw a medical conclusion.

Keita’s family and an Islamic civil rights group repeatedly have pushed for the FBI’s further involvement, alleging the death may have been a hate crime. International and national media stories implied that a lynching had been ignored in the suburbs of Seattle. Communication between the family and local police reached an impasse weeks ago.

FBI agents have been asked to interview the family, Dyer said. As of Thursday, that meeting had not been scheduled.

New information has come to light in recent weeks, but it doesn’t answer every question. Forensic results from the crime lab and genetic testing showed “no conclusive evidence that there was any criminal act,” Dyer said.

The family also had questions about why multiple search operations didn’t find the body. The Attorney General’s Office suggested that police retrace the steps of searchers. The search dog handler, relying on his notes, drew them a digital map, showing the path he took. That search was not in the area where the body later was found by passersby, Dyer said.

However, two Snohomish County sheriff’s search and rescue sergeants had been on foot in that part of the woods. Their efforts were hampered by weather conditions, including freezing temperatures, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said Friday.

This week, the FBI said it was “premature to make any conclusion,” but that its findings concur with those of Lake Stevens police.

“The FBI remains in contact with the LSPD and would re-evaluate our position if information develops that suggests otherwise,” a spokeswoman said.

Under state law, the police investigation remains exempt from public disclosure until the case is closed. The family has been provided copies of the police reports but have declined to share those with The Daily Herald.

Next week, police plan to offer a $1,000 reward for tips through Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound. The NAACP of Snohomish County on Thursday also published a request for information through its Facebook page.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

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