Saniyaa Dennis (304790)
Credit: Family photo

Saniyya Dennis’ family cleared out her dorm room at Buffalo State College and remain determined to find her. Dennis has been missing since April 24 when she left the college to go to Niagara Falls. A district attorney ruled Dennis committed suicide––however, mounting evidence the family has says otherwise.

It’s been about a month since Dennis, a 19-year-old Bronx native, disappeared and community members in Western New York have joined the investigation to bring her home. In a statement released to the media, Dennis’ mother, Latisha, said she’s not giving up.

“Saniyya Dennis is still missing,” Latisha said. “Her family and loved ones want her found!”

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced at a press conference earlier this month that after a manhunt, Dennis’ disappearance was determined to be a suicide alluding she jumped into Niagara Falls. Flynn produced and presented text messages between her and an alleged ex-boyfriend where she allegedly discussed killing herself.

The family was not present at the press conference.

Last week, the AmNews received mounds of evidence the family has disputing the district attorney’s findings including text messages, social media posts and screenshots. The family has not been able to obtain sufficient surveillance video of Dennis’ whereabouts. Her family believes she is alive and foul play is involved.

In an interview with the AmNews, Myles Carter, a community leader who is working with Dennis’ family, said they are pushing forward and won’t stop until Dennis is found.

“There has been a continued effort to find Saniyya since the DA made his statement regarding her taking her own life,” Carter said. “There’s a daily search at the gorge at Artpark State Park in Lewiston where bodies would surface and that’s been going on since May 30.”

Carter added that those helping with the search have been posting flyers throughout Western New York on telephone posts and in local businesses. The area is known as a prime location for sex trafficking due to its proximity to the Canadian border. Several massage parlors in the area have been shut down by law enforcement for sex slavery.

Since Dennis’ disappearance, another Black girl has gone missing in Western New York who is similar in height, weight and appearance to Dennis. Shayanna Coley, 19, was last seen on May 10 at the Ellicott Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Buffalo where she worked.

In mid-February, the body of 22-year-old Tiara Lott, who had been missing since Jan. 29, was found on the train tracks in Buffalo. Police are looking for a man named Andre Whigham who has been named a suspect in the case. A $7,500 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest.

In another case, Black 12-year-old Jaylen Griffin has been missing since he disappeared in Buffalo in August 2020 when he didn’t come back home. Griffin’s family believes he’s still alive and that someone has him.

“This is an occurrence that happens quite frequently here,” Carter said. “We’ve got a problem with missing people.”

Buffalo police continue to search for Dennis’ body under the presumption that she committed suicide. Flynn said the investigation is ongoing, however Carter says he hasn’t noticed a push by law enforcement to find any traces of Dennis.

“There have been people searching Niagara Falls continuously but I don’t think they’re putting much effort into it,” Carter said.

The AmNews previously reached out to the Erie County District Attorney’s office about Dennis’ case and they confirmed their belief that she committed suicide. When asked this week about the ongoing investigation, officials told the AmNews that searches for Dennis are happening daily.

“The New York State Park Police continue to conduct physical patrols searches in the area twice a day, ” a spokesperson said. “Also, they are also conducting aerial searches as the weather permits.”

Officials at Buffalo State College referred the AmNews to the district attorney’s office.

“We have a community that’s definitely engaged, ready and continuously looking for Saniyya Dennis,” Carter said. “As we continue to search for Saniyya, we are bringing awareness to the other missing people in Western New York and we’re creating a framework in how we can handle things when young Black people come up missing.”

Anyone with information on Dennis’ disappearance can call the family’s confidential tip like at 716-336-3147.