What happened to Lennon Lacy?
After the 17-year-old African-American student and football player was found hanging from a child’s swing set in August in the middle of a mostly white trailer park in North Carolina, Lacy’s family members don’t believe law enforcement’s contention that he killed himself.
The historical resonance of a Black boy found hanged has sent a cold chill through the small town of Bladenboro, particularly since Lacy was involved in a sexual relationship with a much older white woman.
The teen’s family has joined forces with a coalition of church leaders, lawyers and activists in North Carolina to ask federal authorities to aid in the investigation into the Lacy’s mysterious death. Officials from the North Carolina branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) spent almost two hours on Tuesday with US attorney Thomas Walker in his Raleigh office, according to a report in The Guardian, which said the NAACP handed the federal prosecutor a letter formally asking the FBI to join the investigation.
The NAACP also gave Walker a file containing more than 20 leads that seem to cast doubt on law enforcement’s contention that the 17-year-old killed himself with no involvement from anyone else.
“Given evidence uncovered by the (North Carolina) NAACP, there are several other possible explanations for his death besides a simple suicide,” the letter says, according to The Guardian.
“I just want to know what happened to my 17-year-old son; all I want is justice,” Lennon’s mother Claudia Lacy said at a news conference, as she added that the state bureau of investigators treated her like she was a suspect in the death. “I feel the SBI investigators interrogated me. They were not trying to find out the truth of what happened to my son, they were pushing towards a verdict of suicide.”
Walker’s office declined to comment on the invitation or whether it would be taken up, the Guardian said.
Lacy was found on August 29 hanging from a swing set that sat in the middle of a trailer park that was a short walk from his home. That evening Lacy was supposed to be playing in the season-opening football game, which his family members said he had been training for and anxiously awaiting for months. The starting linebacker with dreams of making it to the NFL had washed and packed his uniform and was excited about the big game.
“He was real excited… he was looking forward to doing good in the game,” teammate Anthony White said after his death.
But authorities latched onto the idea that he was despondent over the death of his uncle, to whom he was close and who had just been buried. Five days after his body was discovered, law enforcement authorities announced that there was no evidence of foul play, implying a probable suicide.
“He did have an interracial relationship and attended an interracial church and people in that community raised their dislike of that,” Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina branch, said at the news conference. “If the basic facts were reversed, and Lennon was white and found hanging in a predominantly black neighborhood, would there have been such a rush to quickly say this was a suicide?”
The NAACP has hired a pathologist to study Lacy’s autopsy, particularly the scratches and contortions on his face that authorities contend were caused by ant bites or through the handling of the body after the postmortem had been concluded.
But the undertaker who handled his body, FW Newton Jr., had questions about the abrasions, telling reporters that the teen’s body “reminded him of corpses… where the deceased had been killed in a bar-room fight.”
In addition, the teen was found wearing shoes that were clearly not his—size 10.5 sneakers, nearly two sizes too small, and not his new Jordans
The civil rights group also hired attorney Heather Rattelade to look into the way the investigation was conducted.
Rattelade told the Guardian that at 3:08 pm on the day of Lacy’s death—possibly just nine hours after his body was discovered at the swing set—the medical examiner was informed by the lead investigator in the case that they believed they were dealing with a suicide.
She said they had failed to meet “even the minimum standards for crime scenes. I cannot tell you why minimum protocols were not followed, but that is a large part of the reason why we have been compelled to ask the department of justice and the FBI to carry out its own investigation into what happened to Lennon Lacy.”