ROXBURY, NJ – A private memorial service for Amani Kildea, the adopted son of Redeemer Lutheran Church Pastor Tom Kildea, is scheduled for Monday as authorities continue investigating the cause of the 20-year-old’s Black man's death and activists allege a lynching.
In-person attendance at the service is “by invite only,” due to COVID-19 concerns, according to Kildea’s obituary. “The family hopes that you will join them in spirit, wherever you are,” says the obituary.
Kildea, of Long Valley, was found dead June 28, hanging from a tree in Lewis Morris Park. The county medical examiner determined the cause of death to be suicide and the obituary states the young man “took his own life.”
Despite the medical examiner’s finding, and despite saying it found “no evidence of a criminal act,” the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office said today its investigation is continuing. “Contrary to the statements made in social media and elsewhere, the investigation remains open and has not concluded,” said Morris County Prosecutor Frederic Knapp in a statement.
He said his initial statement on July 1, which stressed the suicide determination, “was intended to preliminarily and expeditiously inform the public that we and multiple other law enforcement agencies … have been working with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit to investigate the circumstances of Mr. Kildea’s death.”
Knapp said investigators “have followed and continue to follow all investigative leads" and will go where the evidence takes them. However, he said his office “cannot disclose all investigative steps” it has taken “so as not to compromise” the probe.
Knapp’s statements appear to be doing little to convince those who believe Kildea was murdered. A petition on Change.org, called “Justice for Amani Kildea,” was today nearing its goal of reaching 35,000 signatures.
“Amani was found an hour away from where he lives,” wrote the petition’s creator, Taylor Packwood. “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.”
Many of those signing the online petition did so with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and joined Packwood in questioning the medical examiner’s finding.
“This clearly could have been a racially charged lynching and Amani deserves better than to have his death ruled a suicide without further investigation,” wrote Packwood. “You cannot physically hang yourself from a tree. No ladder, no nothing.”
A Challenging Time of Life
Nevertheless, in the obituary, Kildea’s family suggest the young man was experiencing emotional problems. They say the pastor and his wife were “so proud of the young man he was becoming, even as that process of his becoming was so difficult for him.”
Additionally, the obituary says “life with Amani was often challenging at home,” but it stresses he was loved dearly by his family.
“Amani was sensitive, tender-hearted, gentle and kind,” says the family in the obituary. “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.”
Kidea was born in Ethiopia and was adopted by Tom and Janice Kildea in 2005, according to the obituary. It describes a person with passion, ambition, skills and intelligence.
“Amani was a natural athlete; he loved basketball the most,” says the obituary. “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.”
The obituary says Kildea “was exceptionally bright” and “terrific at games” as well as funny. He was going to attend James Madison University this fall.
“His native language was Amharic, but he picked up English almost immediately upon his arrival in the U.S.,” says the obituary. “He dreamed of a career in the FBI or CIA,” notes the obituary. “His proudest moment was his graduation from basic training as an MP in the United States Army Reserves in February … His departure from us is an unspeakable tragedy for us all.”