(USA Today)-Authorities in Mississippi said Thursday they had charged a man with the death of Clarksdale mayoral candidate Marco McMillian, described by a national organization as one of the first viable openly gay office-seekers in the state.
The Coahoma County Sheriff's Department issued a statement saying Lawrence Reed, 22, of Shelby, Miss., was charged in the death of McMillian, 34.
The cause of death was not released, and the sheriff's office did not offer a motive.
Politics probably wasn't a factor in McMillian's death, Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said.
McMillian's body was found near the Mississippi River on Wednesday after a search that began when his SUV crashed into another vehicle early that morning. The candidate was not in the car. Reed was.
Offering condolences to McMillian's family on Twitter, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group promoting the election of gay, lesbian and transgender candidates, called him "one of the 1st viable openly #LGBT candidates in Mississippi.''
Denis Dison, spokesman for the Victory Fund, said the group had not endorsed McMillian but was aware of his candidacy. The group had no further comment and referred inquiries to McMillian's campaign.
The McMillian campaign spokesman, Jarod Keith, did not return a call seeking comment.
The Associated Press quoted Keith as saying McMillian may have been the first openly gay man to be a viable candidate for public office in Mississippi.
Reed was driving McMillian's SUV when it collided head-on with another vehicle,The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., reported. Reed was reported in good condition at a Memphis hospital. The other driver was released from a local hospital.
McMillian entered the race for mayor of Clarksdale, saying he wanted to combat crime and unemployment. He was one of four Democrats running in a May 7 primary.
Clarksdale is a storied city in the poverty-stricken Delta region of the state. It is widely known as a birthplace of blues music. Robert Johnson, a blues singer and guitarist from the 1930s, is firmly rooted in musical mythology for having sold his soul to the devil for his guitar skills at "the crossroads" in the region. Clarksdale remains a magnet for blues devotees from around the world, and among the city's music venues is the famed Ground Zero club, partly owned by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.
A graduate of Jackson State University with a master's degree from St. Mary's University in Minnesota, McMillian ran a firm providing professional consultation to non-profit organizations.
He had been international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, executive assistant and chief of staff to the president of Alabama A&M University, and assistant to the vice president for institutional advancement at Jackson State University, according to his bio.
McMillian lived in Memphis before returning to his hometown of Clarksdale several months ago to run for mayor. He graduated from Clarksdale High School in 1997, and his family still lives in the Delta city where he grew up.
A friend, Damon Ray, called McMillian a mentor and the kind of person who would help anybody.
"He always believed in helping," said Ray, an Indianapolis-based event planner. "He told me he wanted to do the same in Clarksdale, to help out with crime and unemployment."
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