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Grieving mother still looking for her son's belongings 1 month after his death

Erica Lotts wants to know why Madison County Sheriff's Department initially called her son's death a suicide when a private autopsy showed otherwise

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story revealed parts of a conversation concerning a question about alcohol use. We have made an editorial decision to remove that content because it doesn’t relate to the homicide investigation, which is the issue of public concern.

FREDERICKTOWN, Mo. — Clothes with the tags still attached hang in the closet.

An unworn pair of white sneakers sits on the closet floor.

A plastic jug sits next to the bed, half full of water.

“He drank from that,” Erica Lotts said of her 19-year-old son Derontae Martin.

He died inside a Fredericktown, Missouri, home on April 25 from what the Madison County Missouri Sheriff’s Department initially called a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The I-Team has reported a second autopsy found the fatal gunshot to the left side of his head was fired from at least two to three feet away.

RELATED: 'Somebody was not a friend to him' | Missouri family believes Black 19-year-old's suicide was a murder

Not long before he died, Lotts spent some of her stimulus check on new clothes for her son and moved into a new house in Ferguson where Derontae — the oldest of seven — was about to have a room of his own for the first time.

Now, Derontae’s family fears a killer could be on the streets.

Lotts has been calling Madison County Sheriff Katy McCutcheon for weeks trying to get answers.

McCutcheon has refused the I-Team’s multiple requests for an interview, saying only in a statement that the investigation is ongoing.

On the one-month anniversary of Derontae’s death, McCutcheon took Lotts’ call.

It was the first time Lotts said she had ever spoken to anyone from the department investigating her son’s death. She said she learned he died through word-of-mouth and was never given an official death notification.

Lotts recorded her recent conversations with the sheriff.

McCutcheon repeatedly told Lotts: “Ma'am the case is still under investigation.”

"What caliber was my son shot with?” Lotts asked.

“Ma'am I can't give you that information," McCutcheon said.

“What day did he die on? How did he die?” Lotts asked.

“Ma'am I can't give you that information," McCutcheon said.

A few hours later, Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Adams called Lotts. McCutcheon told Lotts he was the lead investigator on the case.

“Do you have anybody? A suspect? Are you going to arrest anybody?” Lotts asked.

"I can't really discuss any of that but I can tell you I've talked to everyone that was there that night, I took statements from everybody...and the investigation is ongoing,” he said.

“Can you tell me where the gun came from?” Lotts asked.

“I cannot," he said.

The tone of the call changed when Lotts started pressing him about why the sheriff’s department initially called it a suicide.

“The initial report was an apparent suicide, that is not the final conclusion,” Adams said.

“OK well, if that's the case you shouldn't have even said it was a suicide, because you know why? Because you didn't even have the information,” Lotts said.

Lotts called McCutcheon again the next day and pressed her on why she wrote her son died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a press release four days after his death.

“I didn't put that it was a suicide, I put that preliminary evidence…” McCutcheon said.

"What preliminary evidence?” Lotts interrupted.

“The evidence that we got at the scene ma’am,” McCutcheon said.

“And what was that?” Lotts asked.

“I can't give you that ma'am that's still under investigation,” Lotts said.

Lotts is also searching for what became of her son’s belongings, including the clothes he was wearing, his shoes and his wallet.

Madison County Coroner Scott Follis has told Lotts all of her son’s belongings went with him to Granberry Mortuary, which handled his funeral. Granberry Mortuary representatives told Lotts they never received her son’s belongings from the coroner.

For now, all Lotts has is the box her son’s new wallet came in.

It’s still in his closet.

All she has from the last outfit he wore are the tags.

They’re still sitting on the floor inside his room, right where he left them.

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