BLACK VOICES

FBI Confirms Identity Of Mississippi Man Found Hanging From Tree

03/20/2015 05:36 pm ET | Updated Mar 20, 2015
Mississippi Dept of Corrections

A state medical examiner has confirmed that the African-American man who was found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Mississippi, on Thursday was 54-year-old Otis Byrd.

The news was delivered by the FBI on Friday. The agency shared few new details about the case but said that an autopsy is being conducted. Preliminary results are expected to be revealed sometime next week.

Law enforcement officials have yet to say whether Byrd took his own life or was killed -- and if the latter, whether his death was the result of a potential hate crime.

“Everybody wants answers and they want them quickly,” FBI Special Agent Don Alway said at a Friday press conference. “Everyone’s heard rumors, but we’re going to hold off until the facts take us to definitive answers that we’re all seeking.”

Alway said about 30 federal, state and local agents are investigating the case, according to the Associated Press. Among other tasks, they are seeking to identify any members of Byrd’s family and any of his friends who may have additional information.

“We’re trying to find out more about Byrd’s life and paint a picture, both personally and professionally, to help us identify potential reasons,” Alway said.

Family members received news of Byrd’s death on Thursday morning.

“I was mad," Byrd’s father, Willie Shorter, told The Huffington Post. "How would you feel if it was your child hanging from a tree?"

Earlier on Friday, Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas said that Byrd’s body had been found hanging from a bed sheet tied around a tree limb about 12 feet high, the Associated Press reported. His feet dangled about two feet above the ground.

Byrd had been missing for weeks, and officials were searching for him when they found his body not far from his home. The dead man was apparently last seen by friends, who dropped him off at a casino in nearby Vicksburg on March 2.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi have both confirmed their involvement in the ongoing investigation.

"We simply don't know enough facts," Attorney General Eric Holder told MSNBC on Friday. "We do have a substantial federal presence to determine what the facts are."

CORRECTION: The count of 30 agents working the Byrd case, provided by FBI Special Agent Don Alway, referred to federal, state and local agents combined, not just federal agents.

Suggest a correction
305 Comments

CONVERSATIONS