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Was New York Man's Death an Antigay Hate Crime?

Michael Jones

Conflicting reports are emerging about the death of Michael Jones of Mount Vernon, N.Y.

After Michael Jones, 35, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., died this week of head injuries, initial reports raised the possibility that his death was an antigay hate crime -- but now police are downplaying that theory.

Jones, known to friends and family as "Chris," died Tuesday evening, shortly after he was found on a street in the New York City suburb suffering from severe head injuries, reports The Journal News, an area newspaper. Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas issued a press release Thursday morning saying "preliminary reports" indicated Jones "was in an altercation and fell or was pushed, possibly striking his head on a curb." In the release, acting Police Commissioner Shawn Harris said Jones's death appeared to have resulted from "a deeply personal conflict that may be a hate crime."

Police did not specify what type of hate crime. Sources told New York City TV station WCBS that Jones was gay, but his cousin Laurie Hemphill said he was not. There were also reports that he was bullied in his neighborhood, but Hemphill told journalists, "All the kids around here loved him."

At a Thursday afternoon press conference, Harris did not include the hate-crime angle in his prepared remarks. "Harris said police had not yet received a cause of death from the Westchester Medical Examiner's Office and could not rule out the possibility that no crime occurred," The Journal News reports.

Police are searching for two men who were seen with Jones shortly before his death. They're asking for witnesses to come forward and for nearby businesses to see if their surveillance cameras captured Jones's interaction with the men.

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