The FBI has agreed to investigate the death of 17-year-old Blandenboro, NC teen Lennon Lacy, who was found hanging from a trailer park swing set Aug. 29 by a dog leash. Local officials ruled his death a suicide, but skepticism cast by the teen's mother, the NAACP, and the county coroner has compelled a federal probe.
Lacy, a lineman for the West Bladen High School football team, left his home the evening of Aug. 28 for a run. His doctor had recommended he exercise in the evenings, when it was cooler and less humid, for his asthma. He was found around 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
"When I saw him, I just knew automatically he didn't do that to himself," Lennon's mother, Claudia Lacy, told the Associated Press. "If he was going to harm himself, his demeanor would have changed. His whole routine, everything, his attitude, everything would have changed." From the AP:
In the 911 call, the dispatcher advises the caller to try to get the person down in case he was still alive. When investigators arrived at the trailer park that the NAACP has described as predominantly white, the body was on the ground. Investigators told NAACP attorneys that one shoe was on the body and one was on the ground, said Al McSurely, a lawyer working for the NAACP.
The shoes were 1.5 sizes too small for Lacy and did not belong to him, his family said.
The family also questioned whether authorities took photos at the scene, and if they did, whether those photos were provided to the state medical examiner.
David said Friday that many photos were taken, but the NAACP attorneys said they were not aware of any.
Since August, the contributing factors that led to a quick conclusion by local investigators that Lennon killed himself have been questioned: Bladen County Coroner Hubert Kinlaw told the Associated Press he signed off on Lennon's death certificate ruling the teen's death a suicide "because that's how the form came back from the medical examiner." Kinlaw, who was also at the scene, says he is now unsure how Lennon died.
"How did it happen? How did he wind up there?" he told the AP. "These are all questions that are out there."
Roberts' first concern: basic physics. Lennon was 5-foot-9. The crossbar of the swing set frame he was found hanging from was 7-foot-6, according the NAACP review. With no swings or anything at the scene on which he could have climbed, according the review, it's unclear how Lennon reached the top.
Police were apparently inadvertently led to believe that Lennon was depressed after police asked his mother about his emotional state before his death. She claims the medical examiner misunderstood—a relative had just died, and was buried just the day before Lennon died.
Last Friday, Claudia Lacey penned an essay for The Guardian in which she speculates, "Was he killed? Was my son lynched?" She also revealed how police allegedly failed to check cell records or look through his bedroom:
I couldn't accept that then, and I still cannot now. For those four days, the police didn't once come to my house, they didn't look inside Lennon's room – they still haven't to this day. They didn't ask to see his cell phone so they could track his calls, they didn't ask me what clothes he was wearing the night before he died. Until my family, with the help of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, presented the police with a long list of our concerns, they didn't even inquire about the fact that Lennon was found with a pair of white sneakers on his feet that he didn't own and were two sizes too small for him.
Lennon was also dating their neighbor, a 31-year-old white woman—a relationship his mother says was met with criticism. (The age of consent in North Carolina is 16.) "He did have an interracial relationship and attended an interracial church and people in that community raised their dislike of that," the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter, told reporters.
The NAACP led a march in Bladenboro this past Saturday demanding for a federal investigation.
"That's all I've ever asked for: what is due, owed rightfully to me and my family—justice. Prove to me what happened to my child," Lacy told CNN. "I look for him and I don't see him. I listen for him and I don't hear him."
[Image courtesy Lacy family]