Pittsburg protesters demand ‘#JusticeForTylei’

Jonathan Riley
Protesters demanding "#JusticeForTylei" say they will continue to organize weekly demonstrations every Sunday in downtown Pittsburg. -- JONATHAN RILEY/THE MORNING SUN

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Friends of Tylei Messer — whose body was found last week and whose death was investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation before quickly being declared a suicide — gathered at 4th and Broadway in downtown Pittsburg on Sunday afternoon for a protest calling for “#JusticeForTylei”.

Last week, after police responded to a 911 call from a local resident and found 23-year-old Messer — who also lived at the same home on Warren Street — deceased at the scene, they called in the KBI, which spent hours at the residence conducting an investigation.

By Thursday afternoon, however, the KBI and Pittsburg Police Department had issued a press release declaring Messer’s death a suicide.

“Tylei wasn’t really the suicidal type, she wasn’t one to try and hurt herself,” said Kenneth Grassi, who added that he was friends with Messer and used to live in Pittsburg but recently moved to Joplin.

The KBI and Pittsburg police “did two days worth of investigation and then ruled it a self-inflicted injury, and none of us believe that it was self-inflicted,” Grassi said.

“We’re just really wanting them to reopen the case and try harder than what we feel they did.”

Aside from reopening the case, protesters said they were also seeking additional details of what happened to their friend.

“I just want justice to be served and I want whoever did this to get charged with it, or, you know, more information,” said Destiny Adams of Pittsburg. “We want more information.”

Kenneth Grassi’s brother Matthew, who works at Masonite International in Pittsburg and also attended the protest, echoed that sentiment.

“The circumstances don’t add up,” he said.

“If it wasn’t homicide, then we need clarity on what happened to her and how,” Grassi said. “That’s what bugs us the most is there’s no official document telling us what happened, how it happened.”

Often in suicide cases, both news outlets and investigating authorities will avoid publicizing information, although in the case of Messer’s death the KBI issued two news releases last week. In its releases, the KBI stated explicitly — as it frequently does — that it would not be releasing further information “at this time.” Protesters calling for #JusticeForTylei said Sunday they had heard Messer’s throat had been slit, but also acknowledged that this detail had not been officially released by investigating authorities.

“I would just like to add that my mom on June 11 took her own life in my house,” Matthew Grassi said. “When I called the police to have her removed, they didn’t call a crime scene unit, they didn’t tape off any areas, and it was just a low-key removal of the body. If they had to call KBI in, how could they come up with a resolution in 24 hours?”

In Facebook posts last week, some who identified themselves as Messer’s family members expressed frustration with those who were questioning the KBI’s conclusion that Messer’s death was self-inflicted. Protesters also said they called police Sunday after being confronted during their demonstration.

Protesters said they would continue to organize #JusticeForTylei demonstrations every Sunday at noon at the same location in downtown Pittsburg.