THE BRONX, N.Y. — The family of Buffalo State College student Saniyya Dennis, who disappeared from campus two weeks ago, released a scathing statement Friday night refuting the local district attorney’s assertion that the Bronx teen died by suicide.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn held a news briefing Thursday during which he outlined a timeline of events and evidence that he said led to the conclusion that Dennis “took her own life.”
The 19-year-old was last seen leaving her dorm late at night on April 24 after having an argument with her boyfriend earlier in the day that led him to break up with her, Flynn said.
The district attorney said Dennis had multiple conversations about suicide the day she disappeared and was captured by park cameras inside Niagara Falls State Park that night.
Around 1 a.m., the teen took a Snapchat selfie near the Nikola Tesla monument with Niagara Falls in the background, according to Flynn.
About 20 minutes later, she texted a male friend, telling him that she spoke with her mom and was on her way back to Buffalo. However, cellphone records showed that to not be true.
Minutes after that text, her cellphone left the cellular network, meaning it was either powered off or destroyed, according to officials.
The district attorney and officials indicated they believe Dennis never left Niagara Falls State Park.
Flynn said all of this information had been communicated to Dennis’ parents on Wednesday afternoon.
However, Dennis’ family said on Friday they do not agree with Flynn’s narrative that she died by suicide and accused the district attorney of sharing details of her case without conferring with them first.
The statement challenged or refuted more than a dozen assertions laid out by Flynn during his news conference.
“Odd, Flynn held his conference days before Mother’s Day without any regard for the Dennis family,” the statement said. “Upon careful review and consideration of the allegations presented by District Attorney Flynn regarding the issues surrounding the disappearance of Saniyya Dennis, we respectfully disagree with his presentation and were shocked by his assertion that he shared information with our family regarding her disappearance and his findings of suicide.”
The family accused Buffalo State University, police and Flynn’s office of not taking Dennis’ disappearance seriously, including a delay in responding to multiple requests for a wellness check on April 25.
“Buffalo State University and its police did not perform a wellness check until almost two calendar days after Saniyya’s disappearance and more than a business day after our formal request. Equally, when she did not return to the campus on Saturday, the school bore a responsibility regarding her safety,” the family’s statement said.
Dennis’ family also alleged the college minimized her disappearance as “nonurgent” — conflicting with the district attorney’s assertion she died by suicide — and accused Flynn of misrepresenting evidence during his news conference, including the video confirming she was in Niagara Falls State Park.
“Rather, it is nothing more than a ‘black dot’ shot from a distance. It is impossible to prove the photo or image is of a person. In fact, we specifically addressed that issue with law enforcement days before Mr. Flynn took over the case,” the statement said of the video. “With all due respect, a star in the midnight sky is more visible than Saniyya appears in that purported video.”
The family also raised issues with the Snapchat post Flynn referenced and suggested it could have been doctored.
“There exists no evidence that it came from Saniyya … A person named ‘Keith K’ posted it via social media days later. Striking, his post is a screenshot of what is alleged to be a snapchat from Saniyya. His screenshot of her alleged storyline is not dated and has no time, video or chat from her,” the family statement said.
The family chastised Flynn for putting forth a narrative that was “an easy sell” without considering alternative scenarios involving foul play.
The family demanded a federal investigation by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
“Given these variables and the fact that Saniyya’s body has not been discovered, we express great concerns about the handling of this case and the suicide narrative. Mr. Flynn purposefully placed Saniyya in a negative light as though she was a depraved stalker who harassed her boyfriend for attention,” the family statement said. “These dismissive acts caused victim blaming and shaming. It is unconscionable that he presented a speculative narrative as a factual one by calling a national press conference and falsely asserting he shared his findings with the family.”
Dennis’ parents, multiple agencies and local residents had been involved in a nearly two-week search for the student.
Her father, a former member of the Harlem-based hip-hop group The Diplomats, used his social media presence to get the word out about his daughter’s disappearance.
Desperate for any leads, her dad, also known as rapper 40 Cal, offered a cash reward in a caption of one of his Instagram posts.
If you or someone you know are struggling with suicidal thoughts, click here for resources.