On Thursday morning, the body of a black man was discovered hanging from a tree in a town in Mississippi.
Identified as 54-year-old Otis James Byrd by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), the man was found hanging by a bed sheet, hands untied, CNN reported Sheriff Marvin Lucas of Claiborne County saying.
However, official identification of the victim will be made following the autopsy.
Authorities have yet to confirm whether it was a suicide or a homicide.
The scene of the incident was about 500 yards from Mr. Byrd’s rented house, The New York Times quoted Sheriff Lucas as saying.
The incident has gathered the attention of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, all of whom are investigating the matter.
“This person had been out in the woods for a while,” Sheriff Lucas said. “He didn’t just go out there yesterday.”
Byrd had disappeared two weeks before, and his death came as a shock to family and friends. Byrd worked as a riverboat employee in a small rural town southwest of Jackson.
“They’re talking about it might be a hate crime,” Byrd’s nephew Lee Kendrick said, according to LA Times.
Byrd’s father, Willy Shorter, 83, said he had been informed about his son’s death by the authorities.
“They told me he was dangling in the tree, up in the tree hanging by his neck,” he said.
The New York Times quoted Derrick Johnson, president of the state conference of the N.A.A.C.P., saying, “Considering Mr. Byrd’s body was found hanging from a tree, we are calling on federal authorities to immediately investigate to determine whether his death is a result of a racial hate crime.”
In addition to the investigation conducted by local authorities, the FBI is also looking into the matter regarding any civil rights violation.
Byrd was arrested in 1980 for killing a woman, for which he was paroled in 2006.