Deaths of Ferguson activists lead some to believe something sinister is at play

The sometimes-violent deaths of a half-dozen men linked to the 2014 protests that rocked Ferguson, Mo., including two found in burning cars and three who allegedly committed suicide, have sparked fears that something sinister is afoot, The Associated Press reported in an extensive investigation.

Police say the deaths, which also included a man who collapsed on a bus due to an overdose, have nothing to do with the protests that rocked the small city near St. Louis following the police-involved shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. But others involved in the protests say the strange events are piling up.

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The Rev. Darryl Gray told the Associated Press he found a suspicious box inside his car and when authorities came to inspect they found a 6-foot python inside.

“Everybody is on pins and needles,” Gray said.

No arrests have been made in the two homicides as St. Louis County police spokesman Shawn McGuire told the Associated Press witnesses have just refused to answer questions, leaving the investigation with no leads.

“We don't believe either one was connected to each other,” McGuire said, adding “It's tough to come up with a motive without a suspect.”

In the years since the protest of the police-involved shooting, activists said they’ve been targeted in dangerous ways.

“Something is happening,” Cori Bush, a leader of the Ferguson protests, told The Associated Press. “I've been vocal about the things that I've experienced and still experience — the harassment, the intimidation, the death threats, the death attempts.”

Bush told The Associated Press her car has been run off the road, her home vandalized and someone fired a bullet into her home in 2014 – narrowly missing her 13-year-old daughter. She suspected she’s been targeted by white supremacists or police sympathizers.

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2017 file photo, Cori Bush speaks on a bullhorn to protesters outside the St. Louis Police Department headquarters in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2017 file photo, Cori Bush speaks on a bullhorn to protesters outside the St. Louis Police Department headquarters in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

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Ferguson protests erupted in August 2014 after police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown during a confrontation. Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting and Wilson claimed self-defense, saying Brown charged him. A grand jury declined to bring charges against Wilson, prompting a night of violence.

One of the first activists to die was Deandre Joshua, according to the Associated Press. Joshua, 20, was shot in the head before his car was torched.

Darren Seals, who was shown on video during the night of the protests comforting Brown’s mother, was shot multiple times with his body torched in a vehicle as well in September 2016.

Four others had also died, three of them ruled suicides.

MarShawn McCarrell, an Ohio man who was an activist in Ferguson, shot himself outside the Ohio Statehouse in February 2016, police said.

Edward Crawford Jr., 27, shot himself in May 2017 after telling his friends he was upset over personal issues, police said. Crawford was seen in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo firing a canister back at Ferguson police during the protests.

"I've been vocal about the things that I've experienced and still experience — the harassment, the intimidation, the death threats, the death attempts."

— Cori Bush, Ferguson activist

Danye Jones, 24, was found hanging from a tree in a yard north of his home in October. His mother claimed that he had been lynched but the death was ruled a suicide, according to the Associated Press.

Bassem Masri, 31, was found unresponsive on a bus and toxicology results showed he had died as a result of a fentanyl overdose. The Palestinian American had livestreamed Ferguson demonstrations.

Many activists still feel a sense of hopelessness after the protests. But it’s unclear if the suicides had been related to the effects of the Ferguson aftermath.

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“This has to have a big impact on their mental health,” Washington University sociologist Odis Johnson told the Associated Press. “For many, law enforcement is not a recourse. Many times law enforcement is not on their side.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.