Nearly 800 deaths in Maryland remain classified as “undetermined” — meaning that the medical examiner cannot identify a cause of death for the victim. In other words, based on the available evidence, the state’s medical examiner cannot rule out any of the four manners of death (accident, suicide, homicide or natural causes). The families of the victims are left with ambiguity about the cause of death and are unable to experience closure regarding the loss of their loved one.
Those victims’ cries for help were never heard, and their silence in the grave condemns us all.
Over the past decade in Baltimore, according to Baltimore Examiner reporter Stephen Janis, an average of 300 deaths per year were classified as “undetermined.” This is something of a national record and certainly not one that Baltimore can brag about. [In comparison, Janis reports that only 76 deaths in Washington, D.C., were classified “undetermined” in 2004.] Medical examiners explain that it is impossible to determine if the death of a drug addict is caused by an intentional or accidental overdose or from the work of another person.
The families and friends of victims think that the lack of an investigation into the cause of death shows disrespect for the victims and a total disregard for those caught in the awful webs of criminal activity in the nation’s cities and back country areas.
As part of its investigation into the deaths of prostituted women, the Examiner filed a Maryland Public Information Act request for the names of women whose deaths remain “undetermined.” They found that 26 women with histories of prostitution were victims of homicide in the last 10 years and that 19 of the cases remain unsolved. Relatives believe that another two deaths of the prostituted women are homicides of their loved one.
The families of the victims, along with community activists, plan a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. on Wednesday outside the office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. These families are hoping that the vigil will highlight their “open wounds” and the pain that they are suffering because of the ambiguity surrounding their relative’s death.
If she had not died just before Christmas after a brief, intense battle with pancreatic cancer, Norma Hotaling would be right there on Wednesday evening standing vigil in Baltimore.