A black man whose hanging death at Piedmont Park sparked social media outrage and protests was identified Tuesday as 22-year-old Michael George Smith Jr. of New Jersey.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner said the cause of death was asphyxiation by hanging and the manner of death was suicide. It is not the policy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to name victims of suicide. The AJC is making an exception because of the public nature of the death.
The death of Smith, who was found hanging from a tree about 4 a.m. Thursday, led to online rumors of a "modern-day lynching," a Ku Klux Klan sighting and a conspiracy by law enforcement and the news media to cover it up. Black Lives Matter activists questioned Smith's death at nightly protests.
By midday Thursday, Mayor Kasim Reed had to release a statement addressing the growing rumors. He said the case had already been referred to the FBI.
“We made the judgment that it was best to call our partners at the FBI because we did not want there to be a hint of a cover-up,” Reed said. “I wasn’t driven by social media. The (police) chief and I talked early that morning, and because of the circumstances, the cleanest action was to have the FBI as a partner.”
He addressed the speculation surrounding Smith’s death during a news conference on Friday.
“It’s a classic example of a lie getting around the world before the truth wakes up,” Reed said.
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