By Marti Maguire RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) - The hanging death of a black teenager in a small North Carolina town will be probed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency said on Friday, after his family questioned a finding by local authorities that it was suicide and his mother pleaded to know, "Was my son lynched?" Lennon Lacy, 17, was found in August hanging from a swing set in a mobile home park in Bladenboro, which has a population of about 1,700 some 150 miles (240 km) southeast of Charlotte. Lacy's family and the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) pushed for the probe, citing concerns about how the case was handled and suspicions he might have been murdered. His mother, Claudia Lacy, said she did not think her son, whom she described as shy, would end his life "in such an exposed space, hanging from a swing set in plain view" of trailer homes. "We don't know what happened to my son three months ago, and suicide is still possible. But there are so many unanswered questions that I can’t help but ask, 'Was he killed? Was my son lynched?'" his mother was quoted as saying in an article on Friday in the U.S. edition of The Guardian newspaper. Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter, said in a statement he hopes the FBI will be able to "crack the small-town code" of the community as it looks into the case. Barber said Lacy had a relationship with an older white woman that was well known in the community, and that his body was found in a part of town that blacks had in years past avoided for fear of violence. The high school football player had gone out for a run the night before his body was found, Barber said. Shelley Lynch, a Charlotte-based spokeswoman for the FBI, confirmed the agency was reviewing the case at the request of the U.S. Attorney's office in Raleigh. The FBI investigation comes at a time of strained race relations in the United States. Grand jury decisions to not indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black males in Missouri and New York City have triggered demonstrations and heated debate about the way police in the United States interact with black communities. LOCAL PROBE CHALLENGED The family and NAACP have questioned why during a four-day investigation local police never went to their home to search Lacy's room or checked his cell phone for clues about what may have happened to him on Aug. 29, when he was killed. They also said Lacy's body was found with a pair of shoes on his feet that were two sizes too small. Barber said he suspects police used a statement given by Lacy's mother that the teen was "depressed" over the recent death of his uncle to provide a motive for suicide. Barber said that Lacy's mother had merely meant that he was in mourning. All the family wants is for the federal inquiry to properly investigate what happened, Barber said. "The family can handle if it was a suicide," he said. "It could also be a lynching." The NAACP is planning a rally for Saturday in Bladenboro to honor Lacy's memory and bring attention to the case. Bladen County District Attorney Jon David said on Friday that the FBI’s involvement should not be taken as a sign that the local investigation was deficient. "The death of a child is something that deserves the full attention of my office and law enforcement," he said. "That has occurred and will continue to occur." (Additinal reporting by David Adams in Miami; Writing by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Alan Crosby, Toni Reinhold, Bernard Orr)
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