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Body of a black man found hanging from a tree in Mississippi

FOUND: Authorities believe the dead man to be missing 54-year-old Otis Byrd

THE BODY of a black man has been found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Mississippi.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are investigating the death of the unidentified man who was found in the woods yesterday (Mar 19) morning.

The man was hanging by a bedsheet, said sheriff Marvin Lucas of Claiborne County, who added that it had not yet been determined if hanging had been the ultimate cause of death.

The man’s hands were not tied, the sheriff said, adding that the death had not yet been ruled a homicide or a suicide.

Authorities believe the dead man to be 54-year-old Otis Byrd, who went missing earlier this month.

Sheriff Lucas said that it seemed possible that the body is that of Byrd's, though an identification will not be certain until an autopsy is performed.

“This person had been out in the woods for a while,” Sheriff Lucas said. “He didn’t just go out there yesterday.”

A statement released by the FBI said: "Earlier in the day, the Claiborne County Sheriffs Department and the Mississippi [Department of] Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks conducted a ground search for a man who had been missing since early March.

“Officers located a man hanging in the woods near Roddy Road a half mile from his last known residence.”

Byrd has been missing since March 2 from the small town of Port Gibson, which is not far from the Mississippi River.

His family had filed a missing person’s report with the Sheriff’s department six days later.

The location of where the body was found is about 500 yards from a house Byrd had been renting.

According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Byrd was convicted of capital murder for killing a woman in February 1980 during a robbery.

He was released on parole in November 2006.

Lynching, or public execution by hanging, was once a common practice in parts of the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An estimated 3,500 black people and 1,300 white people were lynched from 1882 to 1968.

The federal Department of Justice is also investigating the death for possible civil rights violations.

“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,” Derrick Johnson, the president of the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said in a statement.

Byrd's father, Willie Shorter, told The Huffington Post that a pastor visited his home yesterday to deliver the unfortunate news.

"I was mad," Shorter said, describing the emotions he felt. "How would you feel if it was your child hanging from a tree?"

Shorter said that he declined to visit the scene and that he's been trying to cope with the news all day. "I'm angry, but what am I supposed to do about it?"

This incident comes seven months after 17-year-old black teenager Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing in North Carolina.

Lacy’s death was quickly ruled a suicide by local police but the FBI announced in December that it was probing the death as suspicious.

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