The national news media has picked up the story about the death of Gerald Washington, the mayor of Westlake, Louisiana, a small community located near Lake Charles. It was recently reported that Mr. Washington committed suicide, but this claim has been met with rampant suspicion. From the AP report:
“This is the South, so of course everybody’s going to say it was some white guy shooting a black guy,” said Dr. Terry Welke, the Calcasieu Parish coroner who ruled that Washington killed himself.
Welke said soot from the pistol was deep in the wound, indicating the gun was touching Washington’s chest when the trigger was pulled. That, he said, suggested suicide. He also said that while most gunfire suicides involve a bullet to the head, it is not unusual for people to kill themselves with a shot to the chest.
But the coroner and the sheriff have offered no reason for why Washington would have killed himself. No suicide note was found. And there is no evidence he bade farewell to anyone, put his financial affairs in order, or gave any other indication he was about to kill himself, authorities said.
Washington’s son, Geroski, accused the sheriff’s office of doing a sloppy job, and asked the state police to take over the investigation.
“We were dissatisfied with the time frame of the investigation and the way it was opened and closed. We’re thinking it’s a cover-up because of the quick and fast work they did and didn’t do,” he told the American Press, the local newspaper.
State police entered the case earlier this week and took the body to Baton Rouge for another autopsy. The state police said it is interviewing friends of Washington’s family, but it would not otherwise comment on the investigation.
Family members are not the only ones suspicious. Many in the blogosphere have asserted that Washington’s death was, in fact, a murder and that his behavior earlier that day was not indicative of someone who was depressed or suicidal. The coroner, however, is sticking by his report and believes that the skepticism it has generated is due, in part, to shock.
“Almost every case of suicide is like that,” he said. “Suicides give us more grief than anything else.”
That explanation hasn’t dampened rumors in town, particularly among blacks, that it should be a murder case.
“Someone lured him to Mossville,” said Pat Hartman, 61, a lifelong resident of Mossville, the neighboring town where she and Washington went to school. “Why would he want to go to Mossville, to kill himself at his alma mater?”
“That boy didn’t kill himself. Somebody killed him.”