By Emily Le Coz
CLARKSDALE, Mississippi (Reuters) - A 22-year-old man has been charged with killing a gay black mayoral candidate in the small but violent Mississippi town of Clarksdale after his body was found near the river, authorities said on Thursday.
Marco McMillian, 34, was one of the first viable, openly gay candidates in Mississippi, according to the Victory Fund, a national organization that supports homosexual candidates and officials.
Mississippi was a hotbed of racial tension during the civil rights era in the 1960s, but Will Rooker, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said on Wednesday the killing was not being investigated as a hate crime.
Law enforcement officials found McMillian's body early on Wednesday. A day later, the Coahoma County Sheriff's Office arrested Clarksdale resident Lawrence Reed, who is also black, on a murder charge.
Authorities said nothing about his motive or what led to his arrest.
The death was not considered politically motivated, despite a heated mayoral race, said Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith.
McMillian had been missing since early on Tuesday when his sport-utility vehicle was involved in a collision outside Clarksdale. The person driving McMillian's vehicle had collided head-on with a pickup truck.
McMillian wasn't with the driver and, because his whereabouts were unknown, law enforcement officials launched a search.
McMillian recently had moved from Memphis back to his hometown of Clarksdale to run for mayor as a Democrat. He had faced state Representative Chuck Espy, a Democrat, and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Luckett, an attorney.
McMillian's campaign focused on reducing crime and unemployment in Clarksdale, a city of roughly 18,000 people, said campaign spokesman Jarod Keith.
A once-booming agricultural community, the city steadily has bled residents and jobs over the years and now faces high levels of violence and unemployment.
Another Democratic candidate for mayor, Doris Haynes Miller, said she recently was robbed at gunpoint in the town.
(Reporting by Emily Le Coz; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)