Black man found hanging from tree was pastor’s adopted son; probe ongoing

Amani Kildea
Amani Kildea | Twitter

As activists demand a full investigation into the death of a white New Jersey pastor’s adopted black son found hanging from a tree and question possible murder motives, authorities say they are still investigating after the medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.

The Morris County Prosecutor's Office says Amani Kildea, 20, of Long Valley, was identified after his body was found in the Sugarloaf section of Morris County Park on June 28.

A park visitor who spotted his body called police at about 2:47 p.m. to alert them of the death.

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Kildea, who was known as a gifted athlete, was also a member of the anti-pedophile group Pedo Got Caught, which catfishes and exposes child predators similar to the television series “To Catch a Predator.”

Kildea was also the adopted son of the senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Succasunna, Tom Kildea, and his wife, Janice. The couple adopted him from Ethiopia at the age of 5.

Three days after Kildea’s body was found, Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp released a statement explaining that the Morris County Medical Examiner "determined the manner of death as suicide.”

“The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office ordinarily does not issue public statements on active investigations," Knapp said in the statement. "However, given the fact that unsubstantiated statements have circulated on social media, there exists a need to provide more information to the public at this time. There is no cause to believe there is any criminality involved. The Morris County Medical Examiner has determined the manner of death as suicide."

Kildea’s family also accepted his death as a suicide and noted in an obituary that he was “broken” and struggled emotionally.

The late Amani Kildea, 20.
The late Amani Kildea, 20. | Family photo

“Amani was sensitive, tender-hearted, gentle and kind. He was a great listener, and he loved to listen to family stories. He felt deeply, observed closely. He was broken in ways that very few could see or would ever know,” the family said.

They noted that he had dreams of pursuing a career in the FBI or CIA and had completed basic training as a military police officer in the United States Army Reserves in February. 

“His parents were so proud of the young man he was becoming, even as that process of his becoming was so difficult for him.  He was looking ahead to attending James Madison University in the fall. He often dreamed about a family of his own,” the obituary explained.

Even though they loved him dearly, Kildea’s family said he also struggled to believe in himself and was “often challenging at home.”

“Amani cherished his time with his friends, who meant the world to him. Everyone who met him, who knew him, young and old, admired him and loved him. He doubted that, but we knew it to be true,” added the obituary. “Although life with Amani was often challenging at home, we loved him dearly. His departure from us and from this world is an unspeakable tragedy for us all. He will be a part of our family forever, and we trust he is safe in the arms of Jesus. O dear, sweet boy, Amani! We love you!”

T’Anna Kimbrough, the founder of Black Lives Matter Morristown, said in a statement Friday that while Kildea could have indeed taken his own life, she was concerned about how quickly his death was ruled a suicide without a complete investigation.

She noted that his work exposing pedophiles could have exposed him to retaliation.

“Through this work, they have exposed at least 30 pedophiles in Morris County and other surrounding areas," Kimbrough said. "This work has led to multiple arrests, including arrests of the Mayor of Netcong’s son and a police officer that was actively serving on a police force, which may demonstrate significant evidence of individuals with motive to harm him."

Kimbrough said that Kildea's work to expose sexual predators was "brave, but dangerous." She contends that it left him "vulnerable to retaliation from those criminals."

"Despite Prosecutor Knapp’s assertion that there is ‘no cause to believe there is any criminality involved’ in his death by hanging, Amani’s work in the community sheds light on a possible motive to kill and silence him,” Kimbrough argued.

A petition calling for authorities to "reopen" the investigation into Kildea's death has surpassed 169,000 supporters as of Monday afternoon. Responding to the concerns, Knapp said in a statement Friday that the investigation into Kildea's death has not concluded.

“Contrary to the statements made in social media and elsewhere, the investigation remains open and has not concluded," he said. "Our initial statement by this office was intended to [be] preliminarily and expeditiously inform the public that we and multiple other law enforcement agencies, including the Morris County Park Police, Morris County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit and Morris County Medical Examiner’s Office, have been working with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit to investigate the circumstances of Mr. Kildea’s death."

Knapp added that as of Friday, "no evidence of criminal act has yet been found" but "efforts to determine what occurred remain very active."

"We have followed and continue to follow all investigative leads and will go where the evidence takes us,” Knapp noted.

Kildea leaves behind his parents; his brother, James; and his sister, Jennifer. 

“His siblings looked up to him, admired him, and loved him deeply. He is also survived by his ‘Pop-pop,’ James Muller, his birth-mother, Genet, in Ethiopia, and many aunts, uncles and cousins, who delighted in him and loved him,” the obituary explained. 

A memorial service for Kildea is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday at Redeemer Lutheran Church, where his father has been a pastor for nearly 20 years.

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