The man was found hanging by a rope from a tree in Piedmont Park in a section of the city just north of downtown. Prior to the completion of an autopsy, Atlanta police ruled the death a suicide and stated that there were no signs of “foul play.” But Reed acknowledged in a statement that a black man found dead in the manner of a lynching calls for extreme scrutiny:
I am deeply saddened by the loss of a young man’s life last night in Piedmont Park. This disturbing event demands our full attention. The Atlanta Police Department (APD) is conducting a robust investigation into his death and I have asked to receive regular briefings on the status of the investigation. We have also referred the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Everything we have seen suggests that there was no foul play involved, but I want to state clearly and unequivocally that we will not prejudge the circumstances surrounding this young man’s death. APD will share all evidence discovered in the course of the investigation. We ask for the public’s support and cooperation as we work to resolve this matter.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the still unidentified man was found dead around 4 a.m. Thursday morning. He is believed to be between 25 and 35 years old, and per a police report was found wearing earbuds and carrying a backpack.
The police ruling the death a suicide appears to have been made based on the following circumstances. Via the AJC:
According to the police report, the man had marks on the front of his jeans and light pollen on the front of his shirt — marks consistent with climbing a tree. Next to the tree was a large, wheeled garbage can, green in color with a black top. “I then examined the top of the garbage can and noted shoe prints were near the top edges of the can,” police said. “The shoe prints appeared to be fresh and were the same pattern as the shoes the male was wearing.”
The AJC also notes that police have been unable to verify claims on Twitter that a local branch of the Klu Klux Klan was passing out flyers at Piedmont Park the afternoon before the man was found dead.
Spokespersons for both the Southern Law Poverty Center, which monitors white supremacist groups in America, and the FBI were both unable to comment on the incident to the AJC.
In December 2014, the FBI agreed to investigate the death of Lennon Lacy, a black 17-year-old who was found hanging from a swing set in Blandenboro, North Carolina. His death was initially ruled a suicide, but after his family voiced suspicions about the incident—such as that shoes that did not belong to Lacy were found on his body—the Department of Justice agreed to investigate. Per an article published in The Guardian last month, the DOJ said it “found no evidence to suggest that Lacy’s death was a homicide.”