The discovery of a 24-year-old Black man hanging from a tree near Palmdale City Hall this week has sparked alarm in the Antelope Valley as investigators try to determine whether his death was caused by suicide or if foul play was involved.
A passerby spotted the man’s body at 3:39 a.m. Wednesday in the 38300 block of 9th Street East, according to authorities. Emergency personnel responded and determined that the man — identified as Robert Fuller — was dead, authorities said.
Lt. Kelly Yagerlener of the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner’s office said the death was initially reported as an apparent suicide, but a decision on the cause of death is deferred pending an investigation. A full autopsy is planned.
“Investigators have been in contact with Mr. Fuller’s family and are continuing their investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Fuller’s death,” Palmdale officials wrote in a statement.
Fuller’s death has generated intense attention, especially after weeks of protests over the police killing of George Floyd. Kim Kardashian West tweeted about the case, urging people to sign a petition demanding a full investigation.
Community members confronted city officials at a news briefing Friday, questioning why they were quick to label Fuller’s death a suicide and asking whether he might have been the victim of homicide.
The residents asked whether there were cameras around the park. The city said there were no outdoor cameras, and video recorders on a nearby traffic signal could not have captured what happened.
Some of the community members detailed examples of racism in the high desert city, including confederate flags, and said officials should not be quick to dismiss it as playing a role in Fuller’s death.
“We have a history with nooses. We don’t like ropes around our necks,” said one man. “It was a message for the protest we had in Palmdale and Lancaster.”
City Manager J.J. Murphy acknowledged, “Maybe we should have said it was ‘an alleged suicide.'” Then he added: “Can I also ask that we stop talking about lynchings?”
The audience erupted with cries of “Hell no!”
Capt. Ron Shaffer of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Palmdale station said homicide detectives are investigating and urged members of the public to contact the homicide bureau with any information.
“I have doubts about what happened,” said Marisela Barajas, who lives in Palmdale. After the press conference, Barajas walked over and joined a crowd gathering at the tree where Fuller died. An American flag flew nearby.
“All alone, in front of the City Hall — it’s more like a statement,” she said. “Even if it was a suicide, that in itself is kind of a statement.”
Fuller’s family has launched a GoFundMe page seeking help covering funeral expenses.
“Words can’t describe how my family is feeling. We grew up there in the Antelope Valley, we have so many friends, families that loved Robert,” one wrote.
Anyone with additional information is asked to call the Sheriff’s Department at (323) 890-5500.