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This staff file photo shows the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Nashville.
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The state medical examiner has ruled the death of an Etowah, Tenn., teen found dead on July 4 as a homicide.

Kelsey N. Burnette died at the hands of someone else, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Susan Niland said in an email late Wednesday. Release of the cause of Burnette's death — exactly how she died — is pending.

Burnette, 18, had been reported missing by her family on July 1. Her body was found by a passerby three days later in a yard on Charles Street in the residential area of Etowah. She was last seen around 5 a.m. on July 1 walking through Etowah, according to a post on a GoFundMe page set up under Burnette's name to help her family with funeral expenses.

The 18-year-old was identified July 6 through preliminary autopsy results.

Early on Wednesday, TBI officials had not yet heard from the medical examiner's office, but the manner of death ruling came out later in the day.

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Kelsey N. Burnette

"[T]he Medical Examiner's office has determined the manner of death in this case to be a homicide," Niland said.

Burnette's mother, Sissy Burnette, said through social media Thursday the ruling of homicide was no surprise.

The grieving mother said she knew "she didn't just walk off."

Sissy Burnette said her daughter's car was still at home with all her belongings in it, including her wallet and clothes. She said Kelsey would not ordinarily have gone out in the dark alone, referring to her last being seen walking through town before dawn on July 1.

The SIM card from Kelsey's cell phone — containing service subscriber information that usually allows the phone to make calls — was found in the toilet at her home, Sissy Burnette said.

A ruling on the cause of death most likely will describe what killed the teen.

Sissy Burnette described her daughter, who graduated in May from McMinn Central High School, as a hard worker who loved the outdoors and was "always smiling."

She said her daughter "loved doing any and everything with her baby brother."

As the probe continues, a rally is planned for 3 p.m. on Sept. 23 in front of the Little Shop of Music on Tennessee Avenue on the south end of Etowah, family members said. The store is operated by family members.

Anyone who has information related to the case is asked to call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND or via email at TipsToTBI@tn.gov.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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