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Mayoral candidate's death shocks Mississippi town

Handout / Reuters

Marco McMillian, 34, a candidate for mayor of the Mississippi Delta city of Clarksdale, is shown in an undated campaign photograph.

Marco McMillian, a black and gay man from Mississippi, announced in January that he would run for mayor of his hometown of Clarksdale. Six weeks later, the 34-year-old was found dead by police on the Mississippi River levee outside the town of 20,000 people.

Residents are still reeling, McMillian’s childhood friend and Clarksdale resident Tony Jackson told the Clarion Ledger, a local newspaper. “I heard what had happened, and I didn’t even know who they was talking about,” said Jackson, a truck driver and former city police officer. “When it came to me that it was him, that was a shock.”

Everybody knew about McMillian’s sexual preference growing up, but “it didn’t matter,” Jackson told the paper.

Another childhood friend said that McMillian’s death had been “dramatic” for people in Clarksdale, a crime-plagued town best known as a birthplace of the blues.

“It’s just terrifying to everybody that knew him personally because you ask, ‘Why?’” Sissiretta Melton, 33, told The Associated Press. “He knew this town needed him. Kids here have nothing. We don’t even have a decent movie theater. He wanted to bring those things here.”

Investigators charged Lawrence Reed, 22, with McMillian’s murder on Thursday. Reed was hospitalized on Tuesday after he got into a crash while driving McMillian’s car, police said. McMillian was not in the vehicle at the time, and police started their search for the missing man. His body was found Wednesday.

That the promising young man – a college graduate who had worked at Alabama A&M University and Jackson State University – was the latest victim of crime in the city saddened but did not surprise residents of Clarksdale.

“You know things are bad when someone like that is killed and you’re not even surprised,” Jackson said. “There’s too much of this going on here. It seems like someone’s dying every two weeks.”

McMillian cited “increased crime” in a press release announcing his candidacy, saying that he would work to make the Police Department more transparent and partner with community organizations to provide services to at-risk individuals.

“There’s a lot of people upset about it,” resident Dennis Thomas, 33, told the AP. “Why would somebody want to do something like that to somebody of that caliber? He was a highly respected person in town. He’s been in the community helping out a lot.”

Authorities have said that they do not think racial or sexual bias played a role in McMillian’s death, and that it is not being investigated as a hate crime. If elected, he would have been among the state’s most prominent openly gay public officials.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marco McMillian, one of the 1st viable openly #LGBT candidates in Mississippi,” the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a gay rights political action committee, tweeted on Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.