Orlando community members and family are calling on police to further investigate the circumstances surrounding a 30-year-old Black woman who was found dead hanging from a tree.
Yolna Lubrin, also known as “Yo-Yo” was found hanging from a tree in a residential backyard while police were responding to an “unattended death” call on Thursday, Sept. 28. at about 7:40 a.m., according to the Orlando Police Department. Police cut the woman down from the tree and attempted lifesaving measures, but she was pronounced dead on the scene, they said.
Police have spoken out about the incident while the investigation is still ongoing to address “false information” on social media. They said evidence points to a suicide, but the final cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner.
Yo-Yo’s family believes police did not do enough to investigate and acted under an assumption that she took her own life. Activists working with the Lubrin family say the incident echoes the death of a Black man found hanging in a tree three years ago, which was ruled a suicide by the same police department.
“Overall, they have not done their due diligence in providing more insight,” Yo-Yo’s sister Naomi Lubrin said to USA TODAY in an interview Thursday. “I feel like they messed up horribly.”
Sister and Orlando community push for a closer look
More than 60 people gathered at Orlando City Hall Tuesday evening to call on the police to further investigate her death, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
Naomi Lubrin said that many people showed up after seeing a video of Yo-Yo where she was found dead that was circulated on social media, raising questions about how she could have died by suicide in the backyard of a stranger’s home.
The video, which has been removed from social media but was reviewed by USA TODAY, showed Yo-Yo with her chest partially exposed in a position that her family believes does not indicate a suicide.
“She’s able to push her hand up and touch the house, literally,” Naomi said. “So she can stand up.”
The person who filmed her body took another video, also provided to USA TODAY, of Yo-Yo’s car outside the house. All doors are open with clothes and other items strewn around the car. The windshield and driver’s door are smashed.
“(Expletive), what went on last night?” the man filming says in the background.
Naomi also described a number of “red flags” that she said police should have investigated further. OPD declined to comment on the investigation is still ongoing, and therefore have not confirmed the following:
- The man who took the videos lives with another man in an efficiency unit behind the house Yo-Yo was found at. They were leaving for work when they saw the body and did not call 911. They did not talk to police that day.
- By time Naomi arrived at the scene from her home in Fort Lauderdale, a few hours after police reported arriving on scene, police had already packed up and left.
- Police told Naomi that they did not search inside either of the homes because they did not have probable cause.
- Texts from Yo-Yo the night before show she was with someone she described as ‘creepy’.
- Witnesses told Naomi they heard a woman making a lot of noise that night.
“They’re not looking into this at all and then just automatically ruled it as suicide, and now they’re rekindling so they don’t know what direction to take it because they’re getting so many contacts from the community,” Naomi said.
Who was Yo-Yo Lubrin?
“She was a brilliant, smart, intelligent, young lady,” Naomi said. “She was full of laughter… and always gave love.”
Yolna took care of their disabled mother and was a loving aunt to her nieces and nephews.
Naomi said that Yolna was a part of the LGBTQ community, and believed in unity above all else. Her 31st birthday would have been on Oct. 13.
“She had a heart of gold,” Naomi said. “This shouldn’t have been her story.”
The family has set up a GoFundMe to help with funeral costs and a second autopsy.
Police say evidence points to a suicide
Police released a statement to USA TODAY saying the final cause of death will be determined by the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office, but so far evidence points to a suicide.
“We are concerned that there is false information being spread on social media regarding an incident involving a deceased individual,” the statement reads. “While all death investigations are predicated upon the existence of trauma to the body in order to determine a criminal act, our investigation has thus far not revealed any physical injuries other than the ligature marks on the neck caused by the hanging.”
The police also said Lubrin’s history of mental illness, witness statements and cellular communications support their initial conclusion. Orlando Police Department Homicide detectives responded to the scene, but police did not detail their investigative measures in the statement.
“Every call officers and detectives respond to, especially those that involve the death of an individual, is never taken lightly,” police said, adding that they are in touch with the victim’s family. “There are various factors involved when responding to an incident, from conducting life saving measures to utilizing investigative methods to determine what led to the death of the individual.”
Activists join Lubrin’s sister to ask for Justice for Yo-Yo
“Justice for Yo-Yo,” the crowd chanted at the rally, as seen in a Facebook live feed from the event.
Naomi Lubrin is working with Miles Mulrain, activist and founder of Let Your Voice Be Heard. Lubrin and Mulrain said that raising awareness helped them get a meeting with the sergeant who promised to investigate it fully, though still emphasized police believe it to be a suicide.
In a Facebook post the day after she was found, Mulrain said, “finding any black person hanging from a tree in 2023 requires MORE INVESTIGATION no matter what.”
Mulrain also said the incident feels similar to the death of Nevan Baker, who was found hanging in a tree in an Orlando park in 2020. Police and medical examiners ruled his death a suicide, but civil rights attorney Ben Crump said Baker’s hands were tied, his teeth were missing and his face was bruised, calling for a further investigation. Police refuted this claim. Crump did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment Friday.
The imagery of Black people found hanging in trees is symbolic of lynching, the extrajudicial violence most commonly used by white people to subjugate Black people in the 19th and 20th centuries, the NAACP notes. Lynching became a federal hate crime in 2022 via the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which passed unanimously.
“It’s just the lack of urgency. It is the lack of care,” Mulrain said. “It’s the lack of like consideration to even give us the benefit of doubt to investigate it fully and then come to a conclusion, not come to a conclusion in 24 hours.”
This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know might be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call or text the988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255, or chat online at988lifeline.org.
Contributing: Chelsey Cox, Jordan Culver