A Piedmont Park hanging is now under investigation from the FBI, with authorities trying to determine if the black man found hanged to death in the popular Atlanta park was the victim of a homicide.
The body was found early Thursday morning hanging from a tree in the park. Police investigated the death and quickly determined that it was a suicide, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. A statement from police claimed that there were no signs of foul play.
“GI units responded to the scene. There were no discernable signs of a struggle or foul play. The scene was consistent with a suicide. Fulton County Medical Examiner Hagar responded and concurred that the death was consistent with a suicide. Hagar assumed custody of the as yet unidentified body.”
But the circumstances surrounding the Piedmont Park hanging struck many people as odd, especially in the wake of the racial tensions raised with two recent police shootings. Some area residents claimed that the KKK had been seen in the area in recent days, allegedly handing out flyers trying to recruit new members. Police had not confirmed if those reports were true.
Amid the conflicting reports, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed asked the FBI to investigate the Piedmont Park hanging. Reed issued a statement on Thursday saying that signs still pointed to suicide but that he wanted to hand over the investigation to federal authorities.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of a young man’s life last night in Piedmont Park. This disturbing event demands our full attention. The Atlanta Police Department (APD) is conducting a robust investigation into his death and I have asked to receive regular briefings on the status of the investigation. We have also referred the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Everything we have seen suggests that there was no foul play involved, but I want to state clearly and unequivocally that we will not prejudge the circumstances surrounding this young man’s death. APD will share all evidence discovered in the course of the investigation. We ask for the public’s support and cooperation as we work to resolve this matter.”
The Piedmont Park hanging came as national tensions are high following two killings at the hands of police officers. Two days before the body was found in the Atlanta park, officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, opened fire on Alton Sterling, a man selling CDs in a convenience store parking lot.
Video showed two officers pinning Sterling to the ground. As the suspect appeared to struggle, an officer yelled that Sterling had a weapon and shots rang out. Sterling was killed in the shooting.
That was followed by another filmed police shooting, this one in the St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb of Falcon Heights. A police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop, and video recorded by Castile’s girlfriend in the aftermath of the shooting showed the man bloodied and dying in the driver’s seat of his car.
“Stay with me,” Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, could be heard saying. “We got pulled over for a busted tail light in the back and he’s covered … they killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket and he let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm.”
Piedmont Park actually served as a site for a public protest later in the day on Thursday, hours after police had removed the body found hanging from a tree. A crowd of hundreds showed up to speak out against the killings.
Piedmont Park is a popular destination in Atlanta, a 189-acre space that hosts concerts and sporting events. Earlier in the week, the popular ACJ Peachtree Road Race came to a finish in Piedmont Park.
Police said a full autopsy will be conducted on the man found hanging in Piedmont Park.
[Photo by David Goldman/AP Images]