After the body of a black North Carolina teenager was discovered hanging from a swing set near his home, his death was ruled a suicide. Now, over three months after the death of Lennon Lacy, and in the face of doubts raised by both the family and the coroner regarding whether the 17-year-old committed suicide, the FBI is investigating the case.
Lacy’s body was discovered on Aug. 29, 2014, in a trailer park located in the small North Carolina town of Bladenboro. The person who found him hanging, with his feet two inches above the ground, notified authorities, who saw upon their arrival that the teen was hanging by a belt and a dog leash – both of which were not the teen’s, according to his family. The swing set from which Lacy was hanging was located in an area where it could be easily seen by approximately 10 mobile homes.
Although the North Carolina medical examiner’s official ruling was that Lacy committed suicide, his mother, Claudia Lacy, does not believe her youngest son killed himself. In an interview with The Associated Press, Mrs. Lacy said that she believes her son would not have hanged himself, and that his behavior would have seemed different if he had been planning to commit suicide. As it was, when Mrs. Lacy last saw her son, he was getting his football uniform in order in preparation for an upcoming game with his high school team, for which he played middle linebacker. Approximately 13 hours later, she found herself identifying her son’s body as it lay in an ambulance.
After investigators concluded that the teen had hanged himself, Mrs. Lacy contacted the North Carolina NAACP chapter with her belief that her son had not harmed himself. The family believes that race may have been a motivating factor in what happened to Lacy, citing his relationship with an older white woman, which was seen with disapproval in the mostly-white trailer park in which they lived. In addition, the teen’s grave was vandalized shortly after his burial in what Mrs. Lacy believes could be proof that his death was related to his race.
Attorney Al McSurely works for the NAACP and says that one issue with the case concerns the teen’s shoes. When the person who discovered Lacy’s body called 911, he was advised by the dispatcher to attempt to get the teen on the ground in case he was still alive. Authorities arrived on the scene to find Lacy on the ground with one shoe on one foot and the other on the ground. McSurely has been told by Lacy’s family that the shoes found with the body were one-and-a-half sizes too small for him and were not his. Questions also surround the fact that Lacy was found hanging from a beam which was 7 feet 5 inches tall, but the teen himself was only 6 feet 4 inches, meaning he could not have reached the beam without standing on something, but there was no such object found at the scene.
In addition, the Lacy family would like an explanation as to why the crime scene was in the process of being opened only six hours after Lacy’s body was found. As a result of their investigation into the case, the North Carolina NAACP alleges that the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) did not adhere to “basic guidelines” in their examination of the case. They cite the fact that Dr. Deborah Radisch, chief medical examiner for the state, did not have photographs of the death scene or measurements of the swing set when ruling that Lacy killed himself. The SBI spokeswoman, Teresa West, has stated that all credible leads have been investigated.
Coroner Hubert Kinlaw of Bladen County was at the scene of Lacy’s death and admits that he questions if Lacy committed suicide. He said that he signed the death certificate, which stated that the cause of death was suicide, only because the form was filled out that way by the state medical examiner.
Bladen County District Attorney Jon David also requested that the FBI investigate the case in light of the fact that the North Carolina NAACP and Lacy’s family claim to have additional information relating to the case, but will only give it to federal agents. David said there was no indication of foul play, and “not only is the case open, but our minds are open.” A spokesperson for the Charlotte, North Carolina, office of the FBI confirmed on Friday that the agency is investigating Lacy’s death.
By Jennifer Pfalz