Beaten. Dragged. Burned.
The words leave attorney Daryl Parks' lips like a barrage of gunfire in the sanctuary of Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, where people have gathered not for prayer but for answers.
Some wear "Justice for Marco" T-shirts. They are enraged over the investigation into the death of Marco McMillian, a young black gay mayoral candidate, whose broken body was discovered dumped downhill from a Mississippi River levee on February 26.
Parks' words suggest the most heinous of murders. Here in the Mississippi Delta, they conjure even more: a chilling history of racial hatred.
"Don't stop; don't give up," Parks says. "Somebody will explain the burn marks on his body. Somebody has to explain the torture he went through."
"Yes, yes," responds the crowd gathered on this June day for an NAACP-sponsored town hall meeting on McMillian's death.
It has been four months, Parks says. Four months, and the sheriff has not come to see McMillian's family. Four months, and he has not responded to a letter from McMillian's mother.
Lawrence Reed, the key suspect, who is also black, is behind bars at the Coahoma County jail, awaiting a preliminary hearing early next month. The sheriff's department says it has the right man in custody.
Beyond that, Sheriff Charles Jones has said little, and the dearth of information stokes suspicion in every corner of this city soundly divided by race and class. Rumors about McMillian's death spread faster than the Mississippi's water swells in the Delta.
McMillian's mother, Patricia Unger, has heard them all.
Some impugn her son's reputation. Some point to corruption and suggest he died because he knew too much. Unger and other family members are convinced there is more to McMillian's killing than the one man being blamed for it. And she lacks confidence that local authorities will solve the mystery surrounding the death of her only child.
"Marco was brutally murdered. That much we know," said Carter Womack, McMillian's godfather and spokesman for the family. Unger is hearing-impaired and does not feel comfortable speaking in public.
"We have to raise the level of voices," Womack said. "Otherwise, it's just another black man dead in Mississippi."
An angel in a town possessed by the devil
It was not long ago that McMillian returned to his hometown of Clarksdale and announced he was running for mayor.
On paper, his platform was straightforward: reduce crime, improve educational opportunities and spur economic growth.
That would have to be every politician's agenda in this bleak Delta city where the population of 18,000 is shrinking by the day. About 40% live below the poverty line, though that number doesn't even begin to convey the despair that hangs as heavy as the damp air.
Many of Clarksdale's residents, weary of stagnation in their lives, believed McMillian was the right man for the job. He was one of their own, an angel who'd come back to a town possessed by the devil. It was in Clarksdale, after all, at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, that music legend says blues man Robert Johnson sold his soul in exchange for unmatched guitar skills.
But before McMillian's campaign even took off, he was dead.
He had been missing for many hours when deputies discovered his body by a levee 20 miles west of town. They were tipped off by Reed, who was found alone in the wreckage of McMillian's SUV on the morning of February 26. Critically injured and taken to a Memphis hospital for treatment, Reed reportedly confessed to police that he had killed McMillian and told them where to find his body.
Some here believe McMillian was killed because he discovered too much about his hometown. He was a black man who challenged the largely white establishment. "I want to know why this isn't being called an assassination," said Darrell Gillespie, a former classmate of McMillian's.
Parks, who stepped forward to represent McMillian's family and whose law firm represents Trayvon Martin's parents in Florida, fuels those theories. He says McMillian discovered information that had "some components of public corruption. It's very serious."
So serious that Parks says he is concerned about the family's welfare.
Others believe McMillian and Reed were sexually involved, that the killing was domestic violence. Or, they say, Reed killed McMillian in a fit of rage after the latter made sexual advances. Reed is not gay, his friends said.
Initial media reports implied that perhaps McMillian, described as Mississippi's first viable openly gay candidate, was killed because of his homosexuality in a state that has no hate crime laws to protect LGBT people. The story was made out to be a modern-day civil rights case.