Authorities in Mississippi have charged Lawrence Reed in the murder of Marco McMillian, a black and openly gay candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Miss., whose death sent shockwaves across the Magnolia State and beyond.
McMillian’s body was found Wednesday near a Mississippi River levee between Rena Lara and Sherard -- about 10 miles from Clarksdale. The 34-year-old candidate was seen as a rising star in Democratic politics in Mississippi.
Reed, 22, of Shelby, Miss., was charged in McMillian’s death, the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday night. Not much is known about Reed’s connection to the victim, or if there is any link at all between the two men.
The sheriff’s office has yet to determine a motive for the murder, and it’s still not clear whether McMillian’s death is being considered as a hate crime.
But McMillian’s families have their own theories about his murder.
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“I believe it was political,” one family member told the New York Times. ““Maybe some people didn’t want him to run. Maybe he was a threat. They wanted Clarksdale to stay the same.”
A former classmate of McMillian’s said the mayoral candidate was loved in the Mississippi town of about 18,000 people.
“It's just terrifying to everybody that knew him personally because you ask, `Why?'" Sissiretta Melton told the Associated Press. "Why would it happen to someone like him?"
She said McMillian could have moved out of Clarksdale, but he decided to stay in the town to help improve it. Mississippi is the poorest state in the country.
"He knew this town needed him," Melton told the newswire service. "Kids here have nothing. We don't even have a decent movie theater. He wanted to bring those things here."
McMillian went missing on Tuesday. That’s when authorities discovered the candidate’s crashed SUV on U.S. Highway 49. McMillian was not in the SUV, but Reed, then a person of interest in the case, was inside the vehicle.
The mayoral candidate was seen as the first openly gay contender for elected office in Mississippi who had a shot at winning.
His campaign expressed shock over his murder through a post on the Marco McMillian for Mayor Facebook page.
“Words cannot describe our grief at the loss of our dear friend, Marco McMillian,” the statement read. “The shocking news of Marco’s death is beyond difficult for us to process. We remember Marco as a bold and passionate public servant, whose faith informed every aspect of his life. Tragically, that life has been cut short. At this time of loss, we ask that you keep the family and loved ones of Marco in your prayers.”
The family member who spoke to the Times said McMillian was always interested in politics. “He was a smart, intelligent young man. He was running for mayor because he wanted to move Clarksdale forward.”
In fact, that was McMillian’s campaign slogan: Moving Clarksdale Forward.
Some Clarksdale residents questioned why McMillian would be murdered.
“There's a lot of people upset about it,” said resident Dennis Thomas. “Why would somebody want to do something like that to somebody of that caliber? He was a highly respected person in town."
McMillian graduated from Clarksdale High School and Jackson State University and obtained his master’s degree from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota, according to the AP.