The August hanging death of 17-year-old Lennon Lacy in Bladenboro, North Carolina was quickly ruled a suicide, but there are serious questions about whether the teen took his own life. The N.C. NAACP is calling for a federal investigation and plans to hold a march on Dec. 13 to draw attention the case.

The strange death of Lennon Lacy: Another lynching mistaken for suicide?

On the morning of Aug. 29, the body of Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a noose fastened to a swing set at a trailer park in the small eastern North Carolina town of Bladenboro, about a half-mile from his family's home. A 17-year-old African-American junior and football player at West Bladen High School, Lacy was last seen leaving the house around 10:30 p.m. the previous evening to take a walk, as he often did. A 911 call came in at 7:25 a.m. the next day, a Friday.

"I need EMS," said the caller, a woman who got physically ill during the conversation. "I have a man hanging from a swing set … Bladen Rental Properties."

The dispatcher told the caller to cut down the person to see if he was breathing. He wasn't. The call ended with the dispatcher sending help as the distraught woman tried to loose the body.

The initial investigation into the death, conducted by a State Bureau of Investigation team working under the direction of the local district attorney, quickly concluded that Lacy's death was a suicide -- too quickly, the N.C. NAACP charges.

The civil rights group has gotten involved in the case at the request of the Lacy family, who find it difficult to believe Lennon committed suicide. They say he was excited about playing his first varsity football game on the very day his body was discovered. They bristle over investigators' claim that he was suicidally depressed and say he was just experiencing normal grief over the recent death of his great-uncle. There are also questions about why if the teen were going to kill himself he would do so at a mostly white trailer park.

The NAACP questions whether the Lacy case is yet another instance of what it calls "quick call suicides" -- suspicious hanging deaths of black men, most of them in the South, that were immediately classified as suicides without extensive investigations despite evidence that foul play may have been involved. This week the SBI said it has addressed all "viable" leads in the case but that it would still investigate any new information it gets.

"There was such a rush to say suicide," N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber said at a press conference held in Raleigh last month to announce the group had called on the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved in the case. "Questions remain. Have they been thoroughly investigated? If not, why?"

The group plans to hold a march in Bladenboro on Dec. 13 to draw attention to the case. If federal authorities agree to join the probe, the march will be a celebration, Barber said. If not, the event will honor Lacy.

Whose belts? Whose shoes?

As part of an effort to find answers to some of the questions about the teen's death, the N.C. NAACP retained the services of independent medical pathologist Dr. Christena Roberts of Hernando, Florida to review the final report of N.C. Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch, who ruled the death asphyxia by hanging based on autopsy findings and information given to her by investigators.

Roberts' report is critical of actions of the law enforcement officials involved in the case and some of the conclusions they drew:

* Lacy showed no signs of being suicidal. While Lacy was sad about his great-uncle's passing, Roberts wrote, he did not express a desire to hurt himself or take any actions suggesting he was suicidal such as giving things away, and he did not write a suicide note or send any kind of goodbye message. In fact, the night before his body was found Lacy told an employee of the funeral home where his great-uncle's services were held how hard he had worked to improve his grades in order to make the football team and that he was finally being rewarded with the chance to play.

* The belts used to make the noose did not belong to Lacy. The noose was fashioned from a black canvas belt that was tied end to end to a blue canvas belt with a loop created through the D-type ring. Neither of the belts belonged to Lacy.

* The mechanics of the hanging are puzzling. Roberts observed:

One end of the swing set has a climbing platform attached. The noose was reportedly tied to the supporting cross beam (appears to be a 2 x 6") and then fed through a metal grommet that was screwed into the wood. This grommet was 22.5" away from the platform. Lennon was 69" tall. The height of the cross beam to the ground was 90". In a photo provided his brother who is 6'4" could not reach up and touch the beam. There were no swings on this swing set to act as a step to reach the beam. There was no item present at the scene that Lennon could have stood on, applied the noose and then kicked away. The only other way to reach the beam and grommet therefore had to be from the climbing platform. No measurements are available at this time for the noose … but it does not appear long enough to have been tied around the beam, fed through the grommet and still allow a large enough loop for him to be able to place over his head. The side structure of the platform is a rather small square that is further obstructed by the v-shaped vertical supports of the swing.

Roberts also noted that the person who called 911 said she was going to the cut the noose and get Lacy's body down. The photographs from the scene showed that the belts were tied together with a single cut to each at the tie point. "The other free ends of the belts are completely intact and have no secondary cuts," Roberts reported. "Only a very short piece of each belt extends past the tied area and could not have been tied around the cross beam. Note that when meeting with Dr. Radisch she stated that when she examined the belt she thought some portion must be missing because there was no secondary cut in either belt."

Roberts continued: "Lennon weighed 207 pounds and was reportedly completely suspended. It is very unlikely that a female could lift his body weight, support it for a prolonged period and untie the belt. Also, as she did not have anything to stand on she would have to be well over 6'6" to accomplish this from the ground. Note that funeral home personnel stated that it took 3 men to move Lennon while making preparations."

* Lacy was found wearing shoes that were not his own. When Lacy left his home for the last time. he was wearing gray athletic shoes in size 12. The local medical examiner reported that at the death scene Lacy was wearing white sneakers without laces; law enforcement photographs show they were a size 10.5. But Lacy's body was shoeless when it arrived at the medical examiner's office. Radisch told Roberts that she asked SBI about the shoes and they said it had been explained and would not elaborate.

Roberts wrote that Radisch told her "it was not the usual practice for police to remove clothing from the body before transport."

Another black man killed for crossing a race line?

Barber noted that Lacy's body was found one day and 59 years after the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American youth from Chicago, while he was visiting relatives in Mississippi. Till was tortured and killed after reportedly flirting with a white woman.

Till's murder was part of the United States' long history of lynchings -- vigilante killings of mostly African Americans used to enforce white supremacy and Jim Crow segregation after the end of slavery. Between 1882 and 1968, more than 3,400 African Americans were lynched in the United States, according to statistics from the Tuskegee Institute archives. Most of those lynchings -- 539 -- took place in Mississippi, followed by Georgia with 492. In North Carolina, there were at least 86 lynchings of African Americans during that period.

"The images of a black boy or black man hanging from a rope are etched in the souls of all of us who know the history of this country," Barber said.

In its letter asking U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker to get involved with the Lacy investigation, the N.C. NAACP referred to "possible race-based animus toward Lennon and his family by some of their neighbors." The group declined to detail that claim during last month's press conference, saying only that it had passed along the information to the authorities.

But after Lacy's death, Atlanta-based sports blogger Jamie Walker wrote about playing high school football in Bladenboro against the backdrop of a Confederate flag that flew in a neighboring yard. And just a few years before Lacy died, a neighbor of the family was ordered by police to take down signs from his front yard saying, "Niggers keep out."

Adding to the intrigue surrounding Lacy's death is the fact that he had been in a relationship with a 31-year-old white woman who lived nearby. Lacy also attended a multiracial church, and Barber reported that "there are people in the community who have raised concerns" about these things.

'The unsettling thought that lynchings may still occur'

That Lacy died by hanging after being involved with a white woman connects his death to several others documented by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp in a 2012 Investigation Discovery show titled "The Injustice Files: At the End of a Rope." The show examined four suspicious hanging deaths of black men that were all ruled suicides but that many believe were in fact murders. (The entire episode is not available online, but clips from the show are available here.)

Beauchamp said at the time of the episode's airing that he hoped it would be "a huge awakening for many who will have to confront the unsettling thought that lynchings still may occur in this country."

One of the cases Beauchamp examined took place in New York state. In 2006, after chef Izell Parrott of Glen Falls had been missing for 14 months, his body was found hanging more than 30 feet up in a tree in the woods. His family and friends find it unlikely that a 61-year-old man would climb so high up in a tree to hang himself. A friend of his reported that there had been tensions in the community because of Parrott's friendships with white women, and that the letters "KKK" had been carved into a tree in his yard.

The other three cases Beauchamp profiled occurred below the Mason-Dixon Line. In 1986, the body of 19-year-old Keith Warren was found hanging from a tree near his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. His death was ruled a suicide without an autopsy, which forensic experts say should always be done in suicide cases. An EMT called to the scene has said he thought it was a lynching because of the elaborate rope configuration, which is unusual for a suicide, and because there was nothing for Warren to step off of to suspend himself. In addition, his family discovered from crime scene photographs that he was wearing clothing and shoes that were not his own.

Two of the cases profiled took place in the one-time lynching hotbed of Mississippi. One night in early January 2003, 23-year-old Nick Naylor of rural Kemper County, Mississippi left his home to walk his dogs; the dogs later returned but Naylor did not. He was eventually found hanging from a dog leash in an oak tree on the property of a hunting club. During the search for his body, one of the members of the hunting club told his family that maybe he "caught that early morning train" -- what they understood to be code for a lynching.

The other case documented by Beauchamp -- the death of Raynard Johnson in Kokomo, a rural community in Mississippi's Marion County -- has striking similarities to Lacy's. Both involved 17-year-old high school football players who dated white women. Johnson had experienced harassment as a consequence of his relationships; relatives of a white woman Johnson had dated chased him off their property and threw bottles at him when he went to pick her up for a date.

On the evening of June 16, 2000, Johnson was home watching basketball on TV when he stepped outside around 9:30 p.m. His father returned home a short time later to find his son's body hanging from a pecan tree near the house.

The sheriff's deputies who investigated immediately ruled the death a suicide. But people who knew Johnson questioned that. For one thing, the family noted, Johnson had been looking forward to the community's big Juneteenth celebration that would take place the day after his death -- not the behavior you would expect from a person who intended to kill himself.

Also, a neighbor reported seeing men in a pickup and a car park outside her house and confer before driving toward the Johnson house the night before Raynard died. She said they returned the night of his death, parked their vehicles, and walked down the road toward the Johnson property. And Johnson's brother reported hearing intruders in the woods at the edge of the family's property on the two nights before Raynard died, at one point even shooting his gun into the woods to scare them off. But investigators never spoke to him about it, he says.

In addition, Johnson was hung by a belt that was not his own, and there are questions about the mechanics. Johnson's case involved a partial hanging, as he was suspended so low that he could have stopped the asphyxiation by simply standing up, which raises the possibility that he was incapacitated and then hung. Beauchamp explores two theories of possible incapacity for which there is some evidence: that Johnson was first either Tasered, or suffocated with a plastic bag and then suspended.

Something else that the Lacy and Johnson cases have in common is the involvement of civil rights leaders. Following Johnson's death, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Mississippi NAACP called for a federal investigation and organized a march to draw attention to the case. But 14 years after the incident and more than two years after Beauchamp's documentary aired, Johnson's death is still considered a suicide, while unanswered questions about the case linger.

For now, there is still hope among Lacy's family and friends that the N.C. NAACP's efforts to apply moral pressure to law enforcement authorities will lead them to seek out and share more answers in the still-open case -- and ultimately to prevent another suspicious death from haunting a family and a community.

"In 2014 we would hope, we would actually pray, that it was not a lynching," Barber said. "That is a strange prayer for us, to actually pray that it was a suicide."

Image: 
<p>The August hanging death of 17-year-old Lennon Lacy in Bladenboro, North Carolina was quickly ruled a suicide, but there are serious questions about whether the teen took his own life. The N.C. NAACP is calling for a federal investigation and plans to hold a march on Dec. 13 to draw attention the case.</p>

The August hanging death of 17-year-old Lennon Lacy in Bladenboro, North Carolina was quickly ruled a suicide, but there are serious questions about whether the teen took his own life. The N.C. NAACP is calling for a federal investigation and plans to hold a march on Dec. 13 to draw attention the case.

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cannot beleive things like this still happening in 2014

Every time I read articles like these it breaks my heart, but then I get so angry white people seem to veiw blacks as inhuman but when you hear the cruelty that was inflicted upon a 14 year old boy and all those before him who can be seen more inhuman than whites and or their fore fathers then they have the nerve to think blacks/men should feel inferior to them since when do people fear cowards and in my opinion that is exactly what all these lynch mobs were and is if they weren't so afraid why lay wait and do your cruelty in the dark or why wait and try to catch a black man at his most vulnerable time they want admit it but they fear African Americans simply because they know what we can achieve if we stand together reason why Dr. King was assassinated, so they try to destroy our young black men one victim at a time failing to realize we are getting more and more strength each time african Americans have to read an article see on the news or whatever way a white person took one of our sons, brother, farther, etc. life with disregards and I don't want to have animosity in my heart toward all whites but when you don't have a face to connect to the ugly picture then some times any face will fit.

we want "JUSTICE"

I just wish that the person(s) who done this to my cousin, will just come forward. It hurts day in and day out not having you around..... I miss your big hugs and your smile.......we are gonna miss you forever more... we the Lac(e)y family we want the truth...... JUSTICE WILL BE SERVED

what is happening now with this case?

I have been following the Lennon Lacy case since the beginning and am firmly convinced that he was murdered. I have not seen anything recently in the news about it and am wondering what is going on with it? Hopefully this will be FULLY INVESTIGATED by NON LOCAL POLICE. I think there is a lot of collusion between local police and the murderers of this promising young man.

There are two "kinds" of people and just "one" way of life

I am 71 years old now. I have seen my share of inhumanity. Whites inhumanity to blacks. Blacks inhumanity to whites.

At a certain point it ceases to matter who or what came first. And we are WAY past that point long ago.

Jesus Christ rewrote the "Law" over two thousands years ago and humanity has yet to get it right and keep it right.

He (Jesus) said "I have given you many laws and commandments, but the most important one is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER."

So our GOD has instructed us to act in one manner and still individuals fervently believe that they and their ideas and their actions are ABOVE even "His" laws.

As to the "2" kinds of people in this world, there are the good and the evil. The side YOU are on are based upon what you DO in this life. And remember the darkness HATES the light.

John P. McKenzie
Cosby. TN

So sad, This family needs

So sad, This family needs Answers!

Why are some white people so

Why are some white people so angry with people of color? What did we ever do to deserve this kind of treatment? Why can't the people of color just live their lives in peace? Why do we always have to look over our shoulders? Our black men and boys need to go to school and educate themselves about this crazy world. Something is always happening to us because of the color of our skin. I thank god for the Lacy family for fighting for Lennon's rights. Keep fighting the non violent way and I hope you get the justice that you are looking for. The whole world is praying for Lennon.

Dear anonymous friend of most

Dear anonymous friend of most beautiful color. I have the same questions +pleas as your own voice. I am a white girl who's never felt safe in white realms. The spiritual violence is as harsh + isolating for some white girls. Many many white women+ white men/boys have been the cruelest people I have ever met+ have been forced to remain to live amongst. Please look to the writtings of Mrs. Ida B.Wells in our mutual inter-racial history, I thank God Almighty for Ida B.Wells. I wish I could scrape of this ugly white skin, I am not one with whites or white violence or philosophies or government. White men, white leadership white women put noose around my neck + have always been blood thirsty to string me up. I pray Lennon's Mother + Family too find strength + guidance through Ida B.Wells scholarship. I want Lennon alive+well with his Mother + the lynchers to be imprisoned.

Lynching

All these years! In the 1940s, Billy Holiday sang Strange Fruit about lynchings across the South. After WW2, in NC, Black Veterans organized armed Militias to defend their neighborhoods from the Klan invaders seeking victims. The 50s and 60s dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. Years when both Blacks and Whites hoped the endemic Racism of the US could be ended.

Instead, Martin and Malcolm X were assassinated. The Black Panthers were destroyed. Great Black Americans like W.E.B. DuBois died in foreign lands - Driven away from their homeland because of the unending White Racism!

And now? It is the 21st Century. Two and 3 generations have come and gone. Any yet, everyday brings another death by hanging or a choke hold, or a gunshot of a Black Youth murdered by some White Redneck who denies the humanity of his neighbors.

It is apparent that we Whites will refuse to learn the lessons of South Africa and Mississippi, and North Carolina, and New York City and Cleveland Ohio, and South LA, and Chicago, Detroit, Portland, Seattle... Instead we will continue our unreasoning hatreds and prejudices until we get the Revolution we a begging for.

The real tragedy is that like the Blacks, the non-Racist Whites cannot get a tattoo on their forehead, marking them as one of the 'Good Guys'. Like the many Black Kids, they will be treated as guilty regardless of reality.

I am so glad I am old enough that I probably won't be around when it finally happens. Altho, if I am wrong about that, I will do what I can to stand with the Revolutionaries!

"white supremacy, goddamn!"

"white supremacy, goddamn!" I have a grandson who dates a white girl. No big deal; his father is a multigun owning former marine whose several brothers are ex military and know how to use their guns. Should some sick KKK lover come our way, our plan is to fill them full of bullets, before or after they committ a crime.

I sincerely can't wait until

I sincerely can't wait until the world ends.

...Lenny Lacy's Death

I am so sorry for reading this. It hurts because it is not something that America should be pleased in! Anger of racial divides forces much more when solidarity abides. Those who hate colored people, sometimes voice their opinions quietly behind closed doors while others will take action when they think they have the upper hand. Even in jobs, they want you to be obedient. Serving communities where racial hate exist forces many to rethink about what is happening now in Missouri and other places around this nation. Who are we really?

I have felt the afterbirth of racial disguise under many forms. The worse is living it everyday and wondering when social injustice will have a face in an all white populous of controls that matter only to those who reached the top to keep colored people at bay, even if they share the same neighbors, the same diner, or share in the same business. the culture is stagnated by overlaps of wrongs that people find themselves caught in the arms of the sparrow...This is to say, those who are affected moreso, are the ones we least would expect. What have we become, if not men and women of the same nation, fighting for liberty and justice in the face of change. Who are we really? This brings tears after so many years what Kennedy had to say to all of us in this nation! Where are we now!

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