Federal and state agents continue to expand their investigation into a Mississippi man found hanging in the woods about a half-mile away from his home as rumors begin to swirl over the cause of the 54-year-old black man's death.
The state medical examiner on Friday confirmed the identity of Otis Byrd, whose body was found in Clairborne County Thursday by the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Agency.
Don Alway, special agent in charge of the FBI's Jackson office, said a preliminary report finding the cause of death is expected as early as next week. In the meantime, more than 30 local and federal agents plan to identify Byrd's friends and family members in search of clues around the 54-year-old's death. Investigators will also search a storage location registered in Byrd's name, Alway said.
Previously, law enforcement officials had said Byrd was last seen being dropped off by a friend near a casino on March 2. His family reported him missing five days later. On March 13, the local sheriff's office reported Byrd missing to the FBI office in Jackson, Mississippi.
Authorities on Friday sought to address the rumors swirling over the cause of Byrd's death. "Everyone wants answers and they want those quickly, we understand that," Alway said, adding, "and everybody's heard rumors, including myself, as to who may be behind this and why and we're going to hold off on coming to any conclusions until really the facts take us to a definitive answer that we're all seeking."
Clairborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas alluded to the deep history of the region and the scars left by lynchings that have marred America's past. "I would like to say to the Byrd family: That life matters," Lucas said. "I commit to you as the sheriff of Clairborne County to not allow the shadow of the past to case a shadow on the future."
In an exclusive interview with msnbc Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the FBI, the Department of Justice's civil rights division and the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Mississippi are determining whether any federal laws were violated in Byrd's death. “At this point we are trying to determine what happened,” Holder told msnbc's Trymaine Lee. “If it’s a potential hate crime – we simply don’t know enough facts, we’re still in the process of trying to gather those facts – but we do have a substantial federal presence to determine what the facts are.”