BLADENBORO — One year ago Saturday, the body of 17-year-old Lennon Lacy of Bladenboro, a junior at West Bladen High and linebacker with the Knights varsity football team, was found hanging from a wooden swing set just before dawn.
An official determination has yet to be given, despite investigations by the Bladenboro Police Department, Bladen County District Attorney’s Office, State Bureau of Investigation and, most recently and still ongoing, the FBI.
“I am asking the community for patience,” said District Attorney Jon David this week. “The death of a child deserves a full and comprehensive investigation, and that’s what is happening here.”
In the 364 days since Lacy’s death, a myriad of theories have been bandied about concerning the events leading to his hanging — including that it was the result of a relationship Lacy, who was black, was having with an older white woman, that Lacy was depressed following the death of an uncle and several others.
But Lacy’s family and friends have insisted that the teenager had plenty to live for, including the fact that he was about to play in the season’s first home football game at West Bladen.
Shortly after Lacy’s death, the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP was asked by the family to get involved, claiming they were concerned that the investigations and autopsy had not being handled correctly. The request brought the state NAACP president, the Rev. William Barber, to Bladenboro for a number of community meetings at First Baptist Church on MLK Street — each of which were filled with family, friends, lawmen and community members.
On Dec. 13, Barber led a march of about 225 people from the church through downtown Bladenboro in memory of Lacy and in support of the Lacy family.
“We are each driven here for many reasons,” Barber said before the march. “But the death of young Lennon Lacy brings us here to ask for justice. The events that draw us here demand that we have the truth.”
If there is only one thing that Barber and David agree on, it’s the search for the truth.
“I really can’t say much because of the need to maintain the integrity of the process,” David said. “But getting answers and the truth is what we all want. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will get answers everyone wants or expects.”
According to reports after the initial investigations, there was no hard evidence that Lacy was murdered, and the autopsy also stated that the facts were consistent with him hanging himself. To date, there has been no one who has publicly stepped forward as a witness to the hanging or turned themselves in and admitted to the crime.
“There are questions still out there,” David said. “And we hope they can be answered. But some we may never know the answers to.”
Once all the local and state investigations were performed, David and Barber each called for the FBI to review the findings and to conduct its own investigation. Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice looked over the circumstances and agreed to look into the case further. The FBI has had the case for about nine months now.
“Why the FBI? Because they have the resources and proper training to look into this case without rushing to judgment,” Barber said in December.
Although there have been indications that the FBI’s report is close to being revealed, David said his office has not yet received any results of that investigation.
“I have had extensive conversations as recent as this week with the FBI and SBI,” David said, “The matter is progressing and the investigation is coming to a conclusion soon.
“When we receive the file from the FBI, we will review it thoroughly and make a final determination on the case,” he added.
Barber, who did not return phone calls from the Bladen Journal this week, told marchers in December there was a glaring need for the investigation into Lacy’s death to be thorough.
“Despite the DA’s claims that everything was done correctly (during local investigations), we have an imperial and historical reason to be suspicious,” he said.
The hanging death of Lacy has attracted state and national media attention, including a piece on ESPN that depicted Bladenboro as a swamp town that had progressed little since the early 1900s.
Barber and the NAACP have not returned to Bladenboro this year for any scheduled public meetings.
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.