About 30 investigators are looking into the death of a black Mississippi man who was found Thursday morning hanging from a tree, the FBI’s special agent in charge for Mississippi said during a press conference Friday. Officials don’t expect a cause of death for Otis Byrd to be determined until late next week, said agent Don Alway.
“The community deserves answers, specifically the family deserves answers,” Alway said. He added that investigators are still trying to find out more about Byrd’s professional and personal life to further identify a reason for his death. Part of the investigation involves searching a storage location owned by Byrd, he said.
Byrd, 54, had been reported missing for two weeks before his body was found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Mississippi, about 200 yards from his home, according to an AP report. Alway didn’t address reports that Byrd was last seen alive at the Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was reported missing on March 2.
The 30 investigators probing Byrd’s death include FBI agents as well as state and local authorities, Alway said.
Byrd spent more than 25 years in prison for murder before being paroled in 2006, according to Reuters.
The way Byrd’s body was found evoked lynchings, which were conducted mainly against blacks in the South from the late 1800s to the 1960s. But authorities also didn’t rule out other causes.
"Mr. Byrd was found hung in a tree, and because of that we want to ensure it was not in fact a racial hate crime," said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, according to Reuters.
Byrd’s death was similar to that of Lennon Lacy, a black teenager from North Carolina who was found hanging from a swing set seven months ago. The 17-year-old’s death was initially ruled a suicide, but authorities are now investigating the death as suspicious. The investigation into Lennon’s death is ongoing.