Federal authorities say no foul play in death of black man hanging in a tree in Mississippi

Federal investigators have concluded there was no foul play involved in the hanging death of Otis Byrd, 54, a Mississippi man found dead in a tree in March after he was reported missing.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has closed the case, according to a statement issued Friday.

“After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that there was no evidence to prove that Byrd’s death was a homicide. Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed,” according to the Department of Justice’s written statement.

On March 19, Byrd was found hanging in a tree in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Federal and state investigators then launched efforts to determine if his death was either a suicide or homicide.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation were gathering evidence at the scene where the man was found hanging by a bedsheet near his last known residence on Thursday in Claiborne County near Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Clarion-Ledger reported Friday.

A preliminary autopsy suggested that the man may have died as a result of suicide, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

Federal authorities have not confirmed the man’s identity, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

However, state’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was the first organization to refer to the man as Otis Byrd, a 54-year-old man who had been reported missing since March 2. Authorities found the body when they were searching for Byrd.

The NAACP chapter called upon authorities to launch an investigation into Byrd’s death in a released statement.

“We are calling on federal authorities to immediately investigate the hanging death of Mr. Otis Byrd to determine whether or not his death is the result of a hate crime,” said Derrick Johnson, President, NAACP Mississippi State Conference, in a released statement.

Byrd was last seen alive when a friend gave him a ride to a Vicksburg casino, and after Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department turned the case over to MBI agents on March 13, investigators continued ground searches for Byrd, the Clarion-Ledger reported.