Who Killed Derontae Martin?

On April 25th 2021, Derontae was found dead in the attic of a house owned by a known white supremacist with a gunshot wound to his head. The local coroner quickly ruled his death a suicide. After months of questions raised by his family, and the completion of a second autopsy, an empanelled jury made the conclusion: Derontae’s death was the result of violence, not suicide.

It has been one year, no one has been arrested, more questions have surfaced and the Missouri Highway Patrol have shared nothing. It is time for the Department of Justice to get involved and find out who killed Derontae Martin.

Collage of Derontae's photos. Each photo is placed like a polaroid and taped together. There is a photo of Derontae smiling among family, two photos of him in his football uniform, one among his fellow teammates, and another of him as a young child smiling happily.

Featured Interview

July 21st, 2022

Roland Martin Unfiltered interviews Katie Ryan of Campaign Zero and Erica Lotts, Derontae Martin's mother, on the suspicious circumstances of Derontae's death and the inaction of law enforcement in Missouri. YouTube Video

Timeline of a Tragedy

Derontae was a loving 19-year-old, caring brother, supportive teammate, and hard-working student. Derontae was killed just as he was about to live out his dream of playing college football. To those who knew him, the news of his death by suicide was both jarringly tragic and suspicious. The inconsistencies, gaps and questions around the events that led up to and followed Derontae’s killing at the home of James Wade have yet to be answered. Here is what we know:

April 22nd 2021
Derontae had surgery on his right hand, which was his dominant hand. The procedure entailed several pins being placed in his hand, which resulted in his arm being set in a thick cast that stretched from the fingertips on his right hand up to his elbow.
April 24th 2021
Derontae was at Lanie Wade’s birthday party in a remote town at the home of her father James Wade—a man who prominently displayed a Confederate flag on his house and was known for bigoted social media posts.
April 25th 2021
At 3:01 AM, Wade called 911. He is heard  calmly saying, “apparently, a guy just shot himself”. When EMTs arrived, Derontae was found dead in Wade’s home, with a gunshot wound to the head. 
April 25th, 2021
Derontae's mother learned of his death the following morning from other family members—not the police.
April 26th 2021
A local coroner conducted an autopsy and concluded that his death occured by suicide.
April 27th, 2021
Having still not heard from law enforcement directly, Derontae's mother reached out the the sheriff's department for information about her son's death. She was met with hostility and given no information.
May 11th 2021
The family of Derontae Martin ordered a second, independent autopsy. The findings were released and noted several inconsistencies from the initial autopsy.
May 2021
James Wade continued to comment on social media regarding Derontae’s death and texted someone stating that Derontae Martin was the second person to die from “suicide” at his home.
july 30th 2021
Given the number of inconsistencies in the case, a jury was empanelled to review the coroner reports and review the facts. By July 30th, the jury determined that Derontae Martin’s death was the result of violence, not suicide.
April 14th 2022
James Wade was arrested, and is being held in custody, for a shooting incident he was involved in unrelated to Derontae Martin’s case.
No one has been arrested in connection with Derontae’s death, more questions continue to surface and the Missouri Highway Patrol has shared no updates. It is time for the Department of Justice to lead a thorough investigation and find the answers his family and community deserves.
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A Web of Falsehoods

We know that Derontae was taken to Lanie Wade's birthday party on April 24th, 2021, in Fredericktown, MO, at her father, James Wade’s home. But details about what happened at the party and the events that followed remain unclear.

The Suspicious 911 Call

James Wade, who is known for prominently flying a Confederate flag and bigoted social media posts, called 911 and calmly claimed Derontae shot himself. The call also picked up other voices. The following could be heard during the call:

James Wade
“Yeah, uh, apparently a guy just shot his-self.”
“You said a guy just shot himself?”
James Wade
(Requests location details)
(In background) “Oh my god! Look at this... I hate this!”
Male 1
(In background, very muffled) That was crazy he...
Male 2
(In background) “Shut-up!”
“Can you hear me??”
James Wade
“Yeah, I, yeah.”
“Is he breathing at all?”
James Wade

Derontae's mother was never notified of her son’s death by the police. She learned of her son’s death from Derontae's cousin the next day.

A Rushed Autopsy & Suspicious Cause of Death

Several days after his death, Derontae’s mother was told by the Madison County Sheriff's Office/Coroner that they had conducted an autopsy and the cause of death was suicide. They concluded the gunshot wound was self-inflicted and fired at close range.

Suicide? Not Possible.

Derontae’s mother, who had not been notified about an autopsy before it was completed, was suspicious. Derontae’s right hand was in a cast and arm in a sling, making it impossible for him to hold a gun with his dominant hand. Aside from the physical questions, she also knew her son was also looking forward to his future, excited about going to college and playing football. She ordered a second, independent autopsy.

The second autopsy revealed inconsistencies from the first examination, and as a result, a jury was empanelled to review the case.

This Was Violence

It took just a few hours for the jury’s ruling. Derontae’s death resulted from violence, not suicide.

No arrests have been made. According to testimony before the jury, a witness testified that James Wade confessed to killing Derontae. “He just told me he didn’t like Black people and used the N-word,” Phillip Lawler testified. He said Wade told him “that murder was the easiest thing in the world to get by with.” The Missouri Highway Patrol is investigating and refusing to answer any questions —the same police who were part of the initial investigation that attempted to sweep Derontae’s death under the rug by backing the local sheriff’s claim it was a suicide.

Press Coverage

Read the news articles covering the case below:

Campaign zero
  • Campaign Zero Launches #JusticeforDerontae Demanding Independent Investigation into 2021 Suspicious Shooting of Black Missouri Teenager | Link
Riverfront Times
  • Mysterious Suicides and Missing Persons Rattle Southern Missouri Town | Link
  • Black Teen Found Dead in White Man’s Attic Didn't Kill Himself, Jury Finds | Link
The Associated Press
  • Inquest: Conflicting accounts of how young Black man died | Link
  • Missouri family seeks answers in 19-year-old's death | Link
  • 'They saw the truth': Grieving mother reacts after jury overturns coroner's suicide finding in son's death | Link
  • 'Somebody was not a friend to him' | Missouri family believes Black 19-year-old's suicide was a murder | Link
  • 'There's got to be somebody who can help us': Grieving mothers bond over suspicious deaths of their children | Link
daily mail
  • Black teenager found shot dead at Missouri home of white man who made racist social media posts did NOT kill himself, jury rules as it overturns police's suicide verdict | Link
  • Missouri family seeks answers in 19-year-old's death | Link
Daily Journal
  • Inquest jury finds Martin's death was from violence, not suicide | Link
NBC news
  • Family suspects racism played role in death of Black Missouri man initially ruled suicide | Link
Polaroid style collage of Derontae's photos. The first has him smiling wearing white and pink rabbit ears, the second is of him and his family smiling happily, and third is of him standing outside as a child smiling.
Black and white photo of Derontae standing confidently in his full football uniform with his arms folded.

Derontae Deserves Justice

Derontae Martin worked hard to achieve his dreams. He brought up his grades to play on the football team. He supported his siblings. He worked at Walmart and a restaurant to save money for college, where he would continue to play the game he loved. His killing robbed the world of a light and beautiful soul.

His family deserves answers.

Demand Justice. Take Action Now.

There are so many questions and inconsistencies about what happened. The Missouri Highway Patrol has provided no updates or information about their investigation. We believe the Department of Justice can conduct a thorough investigation and find the answers his family deserves. Together, we need to uncover the truth.

Share His Story
Action #1

Demand an independent investigation – tell the Department of Justice to uncover the truth about Derontae’s death.

US Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division

(202) 514-3847



Action #2

Report Derontae Martin’s death to the FBI Hate Crimes Division.

Missouri Office

(314) 589-2500

National Office

1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324)

Online Tips Form


#WhoKilledDerontae? #10Questions

  1. Why didn’t the Sheriff’s office call Derontae’s family to notify them of his death?

  2. How did Derontae end up in James Wade’s attic?

  3. Who owned the gun used to take Derontae’s life?

  4. Why were there so many wildly different reports of what happened that night from partygoers?

  5. Methamphetamine was found in Derontae’s system despite no prior history of drug use. Was James Wade’s home searched for drugs?

  6. Why are young people at James Wades’ house ending up dead?

  7. Did the Sheriff’s office treat Wade’s home as a crime scene knowing it had been the site of another alleged suicide a few years prior?

  8. Why was Derontae’s phone missing data when law enforcement finally returned it to his family?

  9. Why was James Wade’s polygraph administered to him by a highway patrol trooper instead of a certified polygraph examiner?

  10. Why is the Missouri Highway Patrol seemingly ignoring the jury’s 2021 ruling that Derontae died by violence?


Special gratitude for the research and dedication of Jen Cunningham, Pan Cooke, JT Flowers, Abby Magaraci, Tracy Schmaler, Aria, and Derontae’s mother, Erika Lotts, who have worked tirelessly for #JusticeForDerontae