Police say they have no evidence of foul play in the hanging death of black teenager Lennon Lacy. But in a case with disturbing racial overtones, his family are left with haunting questions.Friday 29 August was a big day for Lennon Lacy. His high school football team, the West Bladen Knights, were taking on the West Columbus Vikings and Lacy, 17, was determined to make his mark. He’d been training all summer for the start of the season, running up and down the bleachers at the school stadium wearing a 65lb exercise jacket. Whenever his mother could afford it, he borrowed $7 and spent the day working out at the Bladenboro gym, building himself up to more than 200lbs. As for the future, he had it all planned out: this year he’d become a starting linebacker on the varsity team, next year he’d earn a scholarship to play football in college, and four years after that he’d achieve the dream he’d harboured since he was a child – to make it in the NFL.
“He was real excited,” said his Knights team-mate Anthony White, also 17, recalling the days leading up to the game. “He said he was looking forward to doing good in the game.”
The night before the game, Lacy did what he always did: he washed and laid out his football clothes in a neat row. He was a meticulous, friendly kid who made a point of always greeting people and asking them how they were doing. Everybody in his neighbourhood appears to have a story about how he would make a beeline to shake their hand, or offer to help them out by moving furniture or anything else that needed doing. “He was in the best sense a good kid,” said his pastor, Barry Galyean.
His brother, Pierre Lacy, said that football was the constant that ran through Lennon’s life since he started out as a Pee Wee: “He was very serious about being a professional, very passionate about it. He never changed his mind or wavered from the course.”
But Lacy never made it to the game that night. At 7.30am on Friday – exactly 12 hours before the game was scheduled to start – he was found hanging from a swing set about a quarter of a mile from his home. The Knights had lost one of the most promising players; his tight-knit family was thrown into despair; and a question echoed around the streets of the tiny town of Bladenboro, North Carolina: what had happened to Lennon Lacy?
The last person known to have seen Lacy alive was his father, Larry Walton. Around midnight on the night before the game, he came out of his bedroom to fetch a glass of water and saw his son preparing his school bag for the following morning. “I told him he needed to get to bed, the game was next day, and he said ‘OK, Daddy’.” A little later Walton heard the front door open and close; Walton assumed Lacy must have stepped out of the house, but thought no more of it and went to sleep.
Next morning there was no sign of Lacy, and Walton and Lacy’s mother, Claudia, thought he’d gone off to school. Later that morning, Claudia noticed he’d left some of his football gear on the line, so she called the school to say she’d bring it to him before the game. She was surprised to be told that her son hadn’t turned up at school. Just as she put the phone down, there was a knock on the door, and the Bladenboro police chief, Chris Hunt, was standing in front of her.
“I need you to come with me,” he said.
Claudia was led to a trailer park a short walk from her home, where an ambulance was parked on the grass next to a wooden swing set. Even before she had got to the ambulance she saw police officers clearing away the crime scene tape that had been placed around the swing.
Then she saw Lennon’s body lying in the ambulance in a black body bag, and on top of the immense shock and grief of seeing her son lifeless in front of her, the bewilderment intensified. “I know my son. The second I saw him I knew he couldn’t have done that to himself – it would have taken at least two men to do that to him.”
She noticed what she describes as scratches and abrasions on his face, and there was a knot on his forehead that hadn’t been there the day before. In a photograph taken of Lacy’s body lying in the casket, a lump is visible on his forehead above his right eye. “From that point on it was just not real, like walking through a dream,” she said.
Five days after Lennon Lacy was found hanging, the investigating team – consisting of local police and detectives from the state bureau of investigation – told the family that it had found no evidence of foul play. There was no mention of suicide, but the implication was clear. In later comments to a local paper, police chief Hunt said: “There are a lot of rumours out there. And 99.9% of them are false.”
The Lacys were left with the impression that, for the district attorney, Jon David, and his investigating team, the question of what had happened to Lennon Lacy was all but settled just five days after the event. But it wasn’t settled for them.
As the Rev William Barber, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in North Carolina, put it at a recent memorial service for Lennon Lacy held at the family’s church, the First Baptist in Bladenboro: “Don’t ask these parents to bury their 17-year-old son and then act as though everything is normal. Don’t chastise them for asking the right questions. All they want is the truth.”
Barber was careful to stress that that truth was elusive – no one knows what happened to Lennon Lacy, he said, beyond the bald facts of his death. If a full and thorough investigation concluded that the teenager had indeed taken his own life, then the Lacy family would accept that.
But Barber also talked about the chilling thought that lingered, otherwise unmentioned, over the scores of black and white people attending the packed memorial. “The image of a black boy hanging from a rope is in the souls of all of us,” he told them. “It is in the DNA of America. In 2014, our greatest prayer is that this was not a lynching.”
Curated from www.theguardian.com
Autopsy released in North Carolina teenager’s death but questions remain
Official report concludes Lennon Lacy died of suffocation from hanging but leaves many lingering questions for family and town
An official autopsy report has found that the black teenager whose death in a small town in North Carolina has sparked racial tensions and prompted complaints that police have mishandled the investigation died from suffocation as a result of hanging.
The autopsy on Lennon Lacy, conducted under the auspices of chief medical examiner, Deborah Radisch, concludes that “the cause of death in this case was due to asphyxia secondary to hanging”. It notes that Lacy’s neck had a dark abrasion encircling it along with a buckle mark under the right ear that were consistent with the noose of blue and black belts tied to a swing set from which he was found hanging on 29 August.
Despite the clearly stated cause of death, the autopsy report does not give any clues as to how the teenager came to be hanging, and as such is unlikely to calm the mood in Bladenboro, a tiny town of just 1,700 in the south of the state.
Pierre Lacy, Lennon’s brother, told the Guardian that the report “doesn’t answer why my brother was found hanging. Or tell us, if this was a suicide, how was he able to execute this alone.”
Lacy, 17, was found hanging from the swing set in an exposed location in the middle of a mobile home park just hours before he was due to play a big game for his high school football team, the West Bladen Knights. The previous day he had attended the funeral of his great uncle with whom he was close.
The autopsy report emphasises that point, stating prominently under its “summary and interpretation” section that “it was reported that [Lacy] had been depressed over the recent death of his uncle”. Lacy’s family said they were puzzled and angered by the reference to a reported comment that had no relevance to the physical and forensic analysis involved in the postmortem.
“An autopsy cannot determine whether a person was depressed – you can’t tell that from physical signs, so why was it put in the report?” said Pierre Lacy. “That’s a red flag to me – it’s not factual.”
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There has been no coverage of this case in the mainstream media’s major news outlets.
There has been some coverage in the regional press.
The biggest news organization to cover this story has been the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Black lives matter. Please check back. I will update this post as I find new information.