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Police Probe Death Of Mount Vernon Man As Possible Hate Crime

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Police are waiting to learn the cause of the mysterious death of a Westchester County man as they investigate it as a possible hate crime.

As CBS2's Jessica Borg reported, a growing makeshift memorial has been set up at the scene where Michael Jones, 35, was last seen alive in Mount Vernon. Candles were burning outside the housing complex on Eastchester Lane near West 4th Avenue.

Police say Tuesday around 10 p.m., a 911 call was made after Jones was seen suffering from head injuries out on the street.

"It's so sad, it's so sad, it's so sad," said Laurie Hemphill.

Hemphill said she is Jones' cousin and wants answers in his death. She doesn't know who would want to hurt him.

"A very beautiful person," Hemphill said. "All the kids around here loved him."

Acting Police Commissioner Shawn Harris said they are pursuing every lead -- and investigating Jones' death as a possible hate crime.

"We're investigating leads on statements our detectives have received," Harris said.

Sources told CBS 2 that Jones was gay and might have been targeted for that reason, but Hemphill said he was not.

"He's not gay," Hemphill told CBS2's Brian Conybeare.

As of Thursday, Harris said, police were at the early stages of their investigation.

Officials said early reports indicate that the victim was in some sort of altercation, and either fell or was pushed -- possibly hitting his head on the curb.

"We are asking for support from the community regarding any witnesses to come forward and contact the Mt. Vernon Police Department," Harris said.

Police said they hope businesses in the area will provide them with surveillance video to help them with their investigation.

As of Thursday, police said no arrests had been made and they have not yet received a cause of death from the Medical Examiner's office. Police said hate crimes in this area are rare, but crime in general near the scene is not.

Police are working on installing surveillance cameras there and other parts of the city, to track down suspects before they get away.

Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas said police are working with the FBI and the New York State Police Hate Crimes Unit to investigate.

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