A family is looking and calling for answers after the death of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields. Police found the Bridgeport woman dead inside her apartment last month.
Shantell Fields, Lauren's mother, told NBC Connecticut that she and her family are still overcome with emotion a month after their daughter and sister was found inside her apartment.
"I see her in everything that I do, everything that I do I see her," Shantell Fields said. "I never get to touch her again and it's deplorable how they treated us, I don't get my daughter back."
Before her death, Lauren was a student at Norwalk Community College and had her own business. The family tells NBC Connecticut they are now left with the memories of Lauren a month after she died.
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"Lauren was full of laughs, if you was down, she was always going to pick you up, make you laugh," said Tavar Gray-Smith, who is one of Lauren's brothers.
"She was the best sister and I loved her and she loved to travel," said Lakeem Jetter, who is also one of Lauren's brother.
Lauren's family tells NBC Connecticut their nightmare started more than a month ago after not hearing from her. Shantell and Lauren's brother went to her apartment on Dec. 13 but when they got to her apartment, she wasn't there - but they saw a note on the door.
The family said the note had a number on it and said, 'If you're looking for Lauren' call the number. The number belonged to the landlord who later told Shantell and her brother that she had died.
The family said they had to call police and the detective about the case and did not get confirmation about Lauren's death until they reached out to the Bridgeport Police Department.
Bridgeport Police issued a statement to NBC Connecticut:
"On December 12, 2021, the Bridgeport Emergency Operations Center received a call for service regarding an untimely death. Upon police arrival, it was found that Ms. Laruen-Smith-Fields passed away unexpectedly. This incident is currently being investigated by the Bridgeport Police Department's Detective Bureau. This investigation remains open and active. The Detective Bureau is awaiting the final report from the Chief Medical Examiner's Office for cause and manner of death of Ms. Smith-Fields. The Bridgeport Police Department offers it's sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Lauren Smith-Fields. We encourage anyone with information regarding this incident to contact either Detective-Sergeant Joseph Morales at 203-581-5219 or the Bridgeport Police TIPS line at 203-576-8477."
The family said once they reached out to the detective, he confirmed that Lauren had passed away and she had met a man through the dating app known as "Bumble."
Once her family found out about the man, they asked the detective about the man who Lauren met through the dating app, but the family said the detective's response was shocking.
"When I asked the officer about the guy, he said he was a very nice guy and they weren't looking into him anymore," said Jetter. "It was almost like he was sticking up for him and it seemed weird to hear that from a detective."
After the family continued to ask questions about the investigation, that's when they said they began running into issues.
"He told me directly on the phone to stop calling him and hung up in my face, it was just like total disrespect, like that's what you tell a family that's going through grief and trying to find answers?" asked Jetter. "The way they talked to me, the way they have talked to the family, how they treated my daughter, they treated her like she was nobody, like she was not important," said Shantell Smith.
NBC Connecticut reached out to Connecticut's medical examiner to find out Lauren's cause of death and they tell us "her cause of death is pending further studies."
The family proceeded to pay their own money for an independent autopsy and are awaiting those results.
The family said each time they reached out to the police department, they felt anger and frustration. Those emotions and search for answers led them to hiring attorney Darnell Crosland in an effort to get justice for Lauren.
"We have seen the amount of resources that have gone to other cases involving missing white women like Gabby Petito and we know so many Black woman are missing so much in this country," said Crosland. "Everyone is speaking out, everyone is insulted with the way the Bridgeport police and the Bridgeport city has dealt with us."
Attorney Crosland tells NBC Connecticut the family has been treated unfairly throughout this last month and they deserve justice and motions that they plan to hire a independent investigator.
"We want an independent investigation by an independent state agency or federal agency to look into this case," said Crosland. "We want the DOJ like when they have to step in for cases like a Mike Brown, this family has to continue to deal with the loss of their loved one, work and they shouldn't have to do that when they are hard-working tax-payers."
The family and their attorney tells NBC Connecticut they've heard about the city's police department offering their condolences and responded to the message.
"We see them now offering their condolences after reporters have been asking them for questions and when we hear about it, it's like a slap in the face, we don't want excuses, we want answers," said Crosland. "I have no faith in the Bridgeport Police Department, we have been disrespected and they didn't handle our loved one's case like they should have as soon as this happened."
The family's attorney tells NBC Connecticut they plan to serve a notice of an intention to sue the City of Bridgeport and plan to make the announcement on Sunday.
"We want justice, we want answers, I mean whatever happened happened that night, we want to know and we want to feel like they care as much as we care," said Jetter. "I miss my daughter and I see her in everything that I do and it pains me to know that I'll never get to see her again," said Shantell Fields.
A makeshift memorial has been set up outside of Lauren's apartment. The family is also planning a citywide march to raise awareness and continue calling for justice for Lauren.
"I never thought something like this would happen where you lose a family member and we are treated like you don't exist so we are going to ensure this city remembers Lauren Smith-Fields," said Jetter.
Lauren's story has gone viral and has been shared on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and the family attorney tells NBC Connecticut the CEO of Bumble has reached out to try and help the family get answers.
The family shared the email they sent to city leaders last month:
I am writing this email on behalf of the Smith-Fields family. I am writing this email completely concerned and disheartened not only as a family member of the victim but a citizen and tax payer in the State of Connecticut.
On Monday December 13th my family began to call and text our beloved Daughter, Sister, Niece, and Friend Lauren Smith-Fields continuously with no prevail. With Lauren being such the family oriented young woman that she was we knew this was completely out of character for her not to respond. Around approximately 8:00pm, Lauren's Mother Shantell and Brother Lakeem decided to go to Laurens home at 33 Plymouth Street. Upon their arrival they were met with a note on the door stating "If you're looking for Lauren call this number". Completely confused and frightened Lauren's Mother and Brother contacted Laurens landlord Hector. Hector then informed them that "Something bad happened" and that Lauren was indeed deceased. Hector then proceeded to give them a card with Detective Cronin's phone number on it. Lauren's brother Lakeem then called Dt. Cronin.
When Dt. Cronin spoke with Lauren's brother Lakeem, he told him that Lauren was indeed expired and her body had been removed from the scene. He told Mr. Jetter that Lauren met a man later identified as Mr. Matthew Lafountain on a dating website called Bumble for the first time. He explained that Mr. LaFountain came to visit Lauren and she seemed to be feeling ill. He went further into detail and told Mr. Jetter that Mr. Lafountain stated Lauren went to meet Mr. Jetter at 9:30pm and stayed outside for a few minutes, came back, and began to vomit uncontrollably. Dt. Cronin then told Lauren's brother that Mr. Lafountain also stated that he carried her into her bed, and laid with her checking on her twice, once at 3:00am and the next at 6:30am when he noticed she was bleeding out of her nose and mouth. Lakeem then asked Dt. Cronin "Are you investigating this?" He responded to Lakeem and said "I don't think there is anything to investigate, he seems like a really great guy. I was here when the medical examiner investigated and there are no signs of foul play and they were both fully dressed". Dt. Cronin then stated that he would be willing to come to the scene at 33 Plymouth Street and speak with them and they agreed. They continued to wait in front of the home upset, grieving, and confused for 45 minutes to be unmet with Dt. Cronin or anyone from the Bridgeport Police Department. Mr. Jetter and Ms. Fields then left the scene of the incident and gave Dt. Cronin's phone number to Lauren's father Everett Smith. Mr. Smith then called Dt. Cronin to clarify then information given earlier to Lauren's brother Lakeem. When Mr. Smith called Dt. Cronin he was met with a response that said "I already talked to your ex wife, and you can talk to her". Mr. Smith then stated that he had his own questions that he wanted to ask Dt. Cronin that were not previously asked. Dt. Cronin then said it was late, he was off work, and could not continue to communicate. Upset and feeling like they were not being heard, Mr. Jetter called Dt. Cronin again for Dt. Cronin to answer and say "Why do you keep calling me, I told you everything I know" and continued to hang up in his face.
After taking a day to process on this tragedy and wait for law enforcement to gather more information and potentially visit or contact us we decided to visit the Bridgeport Police Department on Wednesday December 16th, 2021. In the lobby we asked to speak with Dt. Cronin and told he was off for the day and there was a different detective on duty that they would be able to speak with. While meeting with this detective they explained what information they had in great detail. The detective seemed utterly appalled, and shocked at the way the family was talked to, ignored, and kept uninformed.
As of today, Thursday December 16th, 2021 we still have not spoken with Dt. Cronin nor anyone else from the Bridgeport Police Department. We have questions for this detective, Captain Gilleran, and Chief Garcia. My main question to all of you is since when is an investigation based on someone being a "good guy" or "good person"? Or does Dt. Cronin know Mr. Lafountain as he is a resident of Milford which is only about 6-10 miles away from Bridgeport? In the police force are investigations initiated based on personal belief of someone's character or evidence provided? If investigations are initiated based on evidence presented then how was an investigation not properly preformed? Based on the incident report provided to us today it was stated that Lauren was bleeding from her nose in mouth, how does this explain a pool of blood in the middle of her bed and not at the head of the bed where her pillow was and she was laying? We were told by Dt. Cronin that Lauren and Mr. Fountain did not engage in any intercourse as per Mr. Fountains word, but how would Dt. Cronin know? This morning we found a used Trojan Condom in Lauren's bathroom trash can that was left on the scene. Did Dt. Cronin see the condom in the bathroom? We also found an open tube of lubricant on her dresser that was half full. This tube was a small miniature tube used for 1 time use. Did he bother to look around the home? Or based on his judgement on Mr. Fountain being a "good guy" did he not bother to check? Before we hire private investigator I would like to formally invite and insist detectives return and gather the evidence that was found by our family and overlooked by detectives. If this condom were tested and was indeed holding semen from Mr. Lafountain proving what he stated was not true and him and Lauren indeed had intercourse would he still be considered a good guy?
I along with the voters in this state demand better not only from our police department but our local officials. I also would like to schedule a meeting with our family and your detectives, and officers involved with this case. Our beloved daughter, sister, niece, and friend deserves to have her death properly investigated by our authorities who we are supposed to trust and who are supposed to serve us. Again, investigations should NOT be based on personal belief. We understand that the medical examiner was at the scene and saw no foul play in the human eye, but what if she finds different during her autopsy? Will an investigation start then? Or by then would it be too late to review and collect physical evidence?
I will close this first email of many by further expressing my hurt, anger, and absolute disgust at how my grieving family was talked to and treated during this difficult time. My family deserves a heartfelt apology and a thorough investigation into the untimely death of Lauren Smith-Fields. If an investigation determines Lauren's untimely death was not suspicious, or was not led to by neglect of any kind we will take the information with stride and work as a family to begin to heal from this tragedy, but if for any reason this continues to drag on and any of Mr. Lafontaine's statements are proven to be false, uncorroborated, and complete lies through an independent investigation we will not rest until everyone is held accountable for their actions. I look forward to speaking with you soon, and am open to meeting as soon as possible."