Two years ago today, 17-year-old Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in a Bladenboro, North Carolina trailer park.
Local officials quickly ruled the death of this African-American teenager a suicide. And federal officials announced they found no evidence to suggest otherwise.
The family of Lennon Lacy has spent a lot of time in prayer and believes he was lynched.
Claudia Lacy has a Sunday ritual. She begins Sunday mornings at First Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Junior Street in Bladenboro – the church her family helped build.
"And I lean on my church family 100 percent, I wouldn’t know what to do without them, I wouldn't," said Lacy, as family and members of the church congregation greeted her on a recent morning.
This was not a normal Sunday. Lacy’s son, Lennon Lacy, would have turned 19 years old on Sunday, August 14 – if he were alive.
Family members like Wilson Lacy fondly remember the teenager.
"He was a real quiet young fellow, didn’t have a whole lot to say, real mannerly," said Wilson Lacy.
But they also remember the days leading up to Lennon Lacy's death. Lennon Lacy, who is black, was in a messy, public relationship with a white woman, who was more than ten years older.
Bladenboro is small, only about 1,700 people. It's 72 percent white and the median household income is only $20,000 – less than half of what it is for the state. Word of Lennon Lacy's death traveled fast. Here is part of the 911 call.
"I have a man hanging from a swing set, Bladen Rental Properties, Highway 211. I am going to throw up," said the caller.
Wilson Lacy says Lennon Lacy is likely dead because of race and he doesn’t know when they'll get justice.
"We have the situation of Emmett Till and situations like that sometimes it takes years for God to show you justice he’s going to show," said Wilson Lacy.
In 1955, Emmett Till, an African American teenager, was brutally beaten and lynched in Mississippi for reportedly flirting with a white woman. There have been thousands of lynching deaths, mostly in the South, since the end of slavery to the 1950s. But the NAACP says just as disturbing are the more recent hanging deaths of black men quickly ruled as suicides. North Carolina NAACP President, the Rev. William Barber led a demonstration in Bladenboro a few months after Lennon Lacy’s death.
"We don't want the FBI to be calm. We don't want you to be detached. We want you to hear his name. In your sleep. While you’re driving. Lennon Lacy. Somebody say it, Lennon Lacy, Lennon Lacy, Lennon Lacy!" Barber chanted.
This scene is part of the documentary film, "Always in Season," produced by filmmaker Jacqueline Olive. She examines the lingering impact of more than a century of lynching in the U.S. The film airs on PBS next year.
"Everybody is out here, all the family, grandparents over there. All the ancestors over there," said Angela Contee, one of Claudia Lacy's cousins. "There is Mama and Daddy."
After church, Claudia Lacy always stops by the family cemetery, the resting place of her son and several other relatives. It’s not far from her home, which is also close to where Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set.
"I come here because, like I said, the solitude, just the emptiness of him not being physically here with me. I just need that connection," said Claudia Lacy. "I know he’s gone but yet and still, this right here is reality."
Claudia Lacy says she still doesn’t have enough proof her son wasn’t lynched.
“I need the proof. I need it on paper, I need it scientifically noted, I want to know this is the real reason this happened," said Claudia Lacy.
The Lacy family may never have the justice they want and need. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Justice Department closed its investigation into the death of Lennon Lacy saying there was no evidence that his death was a homicide or a hate crime.
Still, a social justice group out of Raleigh says it will continue fighting on behalf of the Bladenboro teenager.
Kimberly Muktarian works with an organization called “Save Our Sons.” She says even though the U.S. Justice Department has dropped the case, “Save Our Sons” will continue to be an advocate for African American men like Lennon Lacy.
“This is not about Lennon Lacy’s killer as much as it is as how does the community as a whole operate and how are investigations conducted, and from the beginning there was not a fair investigation," said Muktarian.
The North Carolina NAACP also continues to question the investigation into what they call a "lynching."