BLADENBORO, N.C. – The FBI is investigating the death of a black North Carolina teenager found hanging from a swing set after relatives and the coroner raised doubts about the official finding that Lennon Lacy committed suicide.
A 911 caller reported spotting the 17-year-old's body in a trailer park Aug. 29 in the small town of Bladenboro. He was hanging by a dog leash and a belt that his family says did not belong to him, his feet suspended 2 inches off the ground.
The state medical examiner ruled that the boy killed himself, but his mother said she doesn't believe he took his own life.
"When I saw him, I just knew automatically he didn't do that to himself," Claudia Lacy told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "If he was going to harm himself, his demeanor would have changed. His whole routine, everything, his attitude, everything would have changed."
She last saw the youngest of her four sons alive as the middle linebacker prepared for a high school football game by putting together his uniform. About 13 hours later, she identified his body in the back of an ambulance. The swing set was in clear sight of about 10 trailers.
She said she felt let down when investigators ruled it a suicide and brought her concerns to the state chapter of the NAACP, which has organized a march Saturday in Bladenboro to demand a thorough federal investigation.
On Friday, Shelley Lynch, a spokeswoman at the FBI office in Charlotte, confirmed the agency was reviewing the death.
"We don't know what happened that terrible night," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP. "It is possible that a 17-year-old excited about life could commit suicide. The family is prepared to accept the truth. They're not prepared to accept this theory that's been posited with a rush to a conclusion of suicide so quickly. We have said there are far too many unanswered questions. The family deserves more."
Bladen County District Attorney Jon David said he also had asked the FBI to review the case because the family and the NAACP said they had information that they would provide only to federal authorities. He said he had seen no evidence of foul play.
"Not only is the case open, but our minds are open," David said.
In the 911 call, the dispatcher advises the caller to try to get the person down in case he was still alive. When investigators arrived, the body was on the ground. Investigators told NAACP attorneys that one shoe was on the body and one was on the ground, said Al McSurely, a lawyer working for the NAACP.
The shoes were 1.5 sizes too small for Lacy and didn't belong to him, his family said.
The family also questioned whether authorities took photos at the scene, and if they did, whether those photos were provided to the state medical examiner. They also asked why police were seen rolling up the yellow tape around the scene when the mother arrived about six hours after the body was found.
Teresa West, a spokeswoman with the State Bureau of Investigation, said recently that agents have addressed all viable leads. Bladenboro Police Chief Chris Hunt referred all questions to the State Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina's top law enforcement agency.
Bladen County Coroner Hubert Kinlaw said he signed a death certificate calling the cause of death a suicide, because that's how the form came back from the state medical examiner.
Kinlaw, who went to the scene, said he now wonders whether Lennon really killed himself.
"How did it happen? How did he wind up there?" he said. "These are all questions that are out there."
Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc .