KOKOMO, Miss. - A black teenager who was found hanging from a tree in his front yard in what investigators ruled a suicide may instead have been lynched for dating two white girls, the Rev. Jesse Jackson says.
Jackson asked Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into the death of 17-year-old Raynard Johnson.
Standing under the pecan tree where Raynard's body was found by his father June 15, the civil rights leader said Tuesday that the death ''had the smell of Emmett Till all around it, and these questions have to be answered.'' Till was a black teen-ager killed in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman.
''The two young white girls and Johnson had been dating each other; that did not sit well with some people,'' Jackson said Monday.
The Marion County coroner's office concluded that the honor student took his own life.
''He had no marks on him, no other injuries. There were no broken bones, no gunshot wounds, no stab wounds, and he was not beaten up,'' Coroner Norma Williamson said.
Deborah Madden, an FBI spokeswoman in Jackson, said the bureau is investigating and will forward its findings to the Justice Department. District Attorney Claiborne McDonald said his office is still investigating.
Kokomo, where Raynard lived, is a racially mixed rural community.
Family members have insisted there was foul play, claiming the belt used in the hanging did not belong to Raynard.
Maria Johnson, his mother, said she contacted Jackson because she felt the local investigation was getting nowhere. She told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper: ''I know that my son did not do this to himself.''
Jackson attended Raynard's funeral on Tuesday.
Family members have told him that Raynard had been harassed by whites who disapproved of his and his older brother's relationship with two 17-year-old white girls.
They also told Jackson that over the two nights before the teen's death, Raynard heard noises outside the house, and had fired a gun into the air to scare possible intruders away.