The body of an openly gay candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Miss., was recovered by authorities today, and although his death is being ruled a homicide, officials say they don’t believe it was a hate crime.
Marco McMillian was just 34, one of the first viable candidates for mayor in conservative Mississippi who was openly gay. While he wasn’t assured of winning the seat being vacated after more than two decades by Mayor Henry Espy Jr., brother of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy — Mayor Espy’s son, state Rep. Chuck Espy, is also a candidate in the race — McMillian was considered a rising political star with a bright future.
Another candidate in the race is Bill Luckett, a partner in the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale that is co-owned by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. Clarksdale is world-renown for its importance to the origins of blues. It is the home of the crossroads where blues legend Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for skills with a guitar.
When McMillian’s SUV was involved in a wreck earlier this week, he was not in the car and his body was nowhere to be found. But sheriff’s deputies finally located his body in the woods near a levee of the Mississippi River, about 30 miles away from a roadway where McMillian’s car crashed while being driven by another person, according to Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith.
Meredith added that investigators were treating the case as a homicide until they could prove otherwise.
There was a person of interest in custody who had not been formally charged, but authorities would not identify him or confirm whether he was the person driving McMillian’s SUV when it crashed, Will Rooker, a spokesman for the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office, told ABC News.
Meredith said car tracks led investigators to McMillian’s body “just off the levee into the edge of the woods.”
“The chief deputy and some deputy sheriff’s were walking, saw the tracks of a car that went down the levee and they walked over and that’s where they observed the body,” he added.
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute tweeted: “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marco McMillian, one of the 1st viable openly #LGBT candidates in Mississippi.”
“There’s a lot of people upset about it,” Dennis Thomas, 33, who works at Abe’s Barbeque, was quoted as saying on the Huffington Post.
“Why would somebody want to do something like that to somebody of that caliber? He was a highly respected person in town,” Thomas said.
McMillian’s campaign issued a statement saying words cannot describe “our grief at the loss of our dear friend.”
“We remember Marco as a bold and passionate public servant, whose faith informed every aspect of his life,” the statement said.
McMillian’s campaign spokesman Jarod Keith said he spoke to McMillian on the phone on Monday.
“We were getting ready to put together some media schedules and I was just thrilled we were about to launch a website,” Keith said.
A magna cum laude graduate of the W.E.B. DuBois Honors College at Jackson State University, McMillian also held a master’s degree from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in the area of philanthropy and development. He served for four years as international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and was CEO of MWM & Associates, a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. He previously worked as executive assistant to the president at Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University, according to his campaign.
According to a statement from the fraternity, McMillian secured the first federal contract to raise awareness about the impact of HIV and AIDS on communities of color.