A person of interest is being held in the death of an openly gay candidate running for mayor of Clarksdale, Miss., officials said on Thursday.
The person being held has not been charged, Will Rooker, a spokesman for the Coahoma County sheriff’s office, told the Los Angeles Times by telephone. “We have an ongoing investigation into the death,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has not classified the death as a homicide, Rooker said. “It’s not clear at this time what has happened,” he said.
The body of Marco McMillian, 34, was found near a Mississippi River levee between Sherad and Rena Lara, about 15 miles from Clarksdale, in the southwest part of Coahoma County at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Authorities said they began searching for McMillian about 24 hours earlier when his SUV had been involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle.
The collision near the border with Tallahatchie County took place around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. Millian’s SUV was being driven by another man, who was airlifted to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Tenn., where he was listed in good condition Thursday morning, a spokeswoman told the Times. McMillian was not in his SUV at the time of the accident, prompting the search.
Coahoma County is in the northwest corner of Mississippi, and Clarksdale, the county seat, is in the center of the county. The region is part of the Mississippi Delta, home to cotton and blues music.
Clarksdale is a well-established blues music center in the state’s flatlands, traditionally known as the home of the "crossroads" where blues giant Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a wizard on guitar.
The region is poor and conservative. McMillian ran a consulting firm for nonprofits. He had also worked as an executive at Alabama A&M University and at Jackson State University.
McMillian, a Democrat, had served as international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. Photos on McMillian's website and Facebook page show him with a younger Barack Obama, former President Clinton and with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, well known for his activism during the days of racial segregation.
The mayor of Clarksdale is Henry Espy Jr., who is stepping down after more than 20 years in office. McMillian ran on a platform of fighting crime and helping the poor.
The primary is on May 7. Other candidates include Espy's son, state Rep. Chuck Espy, and Bill Luckett, a partner in a Clarksdale blues club.
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marco McMillian, one of the 1st viable openly LGBT candidates in Mississippi,” tweeted the Victory Fund, a national organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender candidates.
Jarod Keith, McMillian’s campaign spokesman, confirmed the candidate was openly gay but said it never came up during the campaign.
“We remember Marco as a bold and passionate public servant, whose faith informed every aspect of his life,” Keith said in a statement issued on Wednesday. “Tragically, that life has been cut short.”