The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating the death of a 24-year-old black man whose body was found hanging from a tree earlier this week in Palmdale, California.
City Manager J.J. Murphy addressed the tragedy in a statement on Thursday, describing Robert Fuller's death as a possible suicide related to the COVID-19 crisis: "Many people are suffering extreme mental anguish and the City wants everyone to know that help is available," he said. "There are local resources such as Mental Health America of Los Angeles, AV Vet Center, and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health."
However, many community members have questioned why Fuller's death was immediately deemed a possible suicide before a full autopsy report was made available. The skepticism grew on social media, as many people began calling for a thorough investigation using the hashtag #JusticeForRobertFuller. Kim Kardashian joined the voice of demands, posting the official petition on her Twitter calling for the investigation as well.
Shortly after 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, a passerby saw Fuller's body hanging from a tree in an area called the Poncitlan Square, just outside City Hall. Palmdale Sheriff's Lt. Brandon Dean told LAist the passerby immediately alerted authorities; Shortly after, first-responders determined Fuller was dead.
"From initial investigation of the scene and everything we've recovered at the scene, all signs right now lead us to believe this was a suicide," Dean told the outlet. "Without going into too much detail, it doesn't appear there was any sign of a fight or struggle."
Palmdale officials addressed the incident during a Friday press conference, stating Fuller's death marked the 15th alleged suicide in the city this year. When asked how many black Palmdale residents died by suicide, officials could not provide an exact number, but said it was more than one.
The LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner's office confirmed that Fuller's death was initially reported in a preliminary finding as a suspected suicide. However, they have yet to determine an official cause of death, as the investigation is ongoing.
Residents urged Palmdale police to stop referring to Fuller's death as a suicide until more information is available. Following the press conference, a man who identified himself as Fuller's cousin additionally told FOX LA that the family is convinced foul play was involved.
Palmdale officials concluded that more information will become available for the public as their investigation is underway.