Family of Missing N.Y. College Student Refutes DA’s Suicide Allegations, Says Evidence Doesn’t Add Up
Saniyya Dennis has been missing since April 24
The family of a Saniyya Dennis, the New York college student who went missing in late April, believes 19-year-old in still alive, disputing the assertion of authorities that she died by suicide.
A statement from Dennis' family, which is working with the African American Juvenile Justice Project to locate the missing SUNY Buffalo State College student, says, "Saniyya is alive until evidence proves otherwise. The family will continue to search for her and offer the reward. She is truly loved and the family wants the person or persons to return her home. No questions asked."
Authorities have said Dennis was last seen leaving her SUNY Buffalo State College dorm at 11 p.m. on April 24. Authorities believe she took the bus to Niagara Falls State Park, where they say her phone last pinged, and jumped to her death.
"All evidence indicates that Saniyya ended her own life, but the investigation into her disappearance will not be closed until she is found," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a press release.
At a press conference, Flynn said Dennis had gotten into an argument with her boyfriend over the phone that day, resulting in a breakup. Dennis then tried calling him 59 times before texting him that she was going to kill herself, Flynn said.
But Dennis' family disputes Flynn's assertion that she killed herself, saying Flynn "did not produce Saniyya's body, a suicide note, witness or video to her jumping off the bridge, or reason to commit suicide."
Her family also questions whether Dennis even went to Niagara Falls. The family says Flynn showed them a still photo purporting to show Dennis at the falls. But, they say, the photo merely showed a black dot, which they said was likely either a water drop or debris. Had Dennis gone to the falls, says the family, they would have seen more photo or video evidence, such as evidence of her presence at bus depots or on the bus itself.
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Dennis' family also says she didn't have a boyfriend, saying in the statement that she "was not in an exclusive or serious relationship." They added they never received proof of the calls Flynn said she made.
The AAJJP provided PEOPLE with messages Dennis sent a friend the night she disappeared, in which she says she would be coming back to campus.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for the Erie County District Attorney's Office said: "The Erie County District Attorney's Office shared the findings of the investigation with Saniyya's family on May 5. As previously stated, our office, along with our partners in law enforcement, have found no evidence of any criminality in this case."
The family statement disputes this, saying Flynn "never discussed any findings" with them.
While there are more questions than answers in Dennis' disappearance, the Bronx-native's family is left reeling and searching for their loved one.
"What the family is going through is described in three words: shock, disbelief and betrayal," Sherri Jefferson, Executive Director of the AAJJP, told the Amsterdam News. "Shocked they had to learn about allegations of suicide and death by way of social media and media representatives contacting them for a statement, disbelief that they would not have had the opportunity to be invited to participate in and confer with the prosecutor prior to him making a statement about alleged findings and betrayed by a justice system and the university system who were supposed to provide their child with protection and to ensure for the family that this search would be done with due diligence."