Death of black man found hanged in Victorville under investigation; family doubts initial finding of suicide

Local news

For the second time in two weeks, Southern California authorities have confirmed they are investigating the death of a black man found hanged from a tree.

The body of 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch was discovered shortly after 7 a.m. on May 31 in Victorville, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller said Saturday.

Malcolm Harsch, 38, of Victorville, pictured in an undated photo provided by family.
Malcolm Harsch, 38, of Victorville, pictured in an undated photo provided by family.

“Deputies responded to the report that a male subject had hung himself near a homeless encampment near Zenda Street and Seventh Street,” Miller said in a written statement.

“A death investigation is being conducted,” she said. “There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play. The cause and manner of death are pending.”

Family members of Harsch, however, said in a statement to the Victor Valley News that they doubted he killed himself.

“His cause of death has not been released to the family yet but we are concerned that his death will be labeled as a suicide, as this is what was communicated to us upon confirmation of his death on the morning of June 1st,” according to the statement.

“Malcolm had very recent conversations with his children about seeing them soon. He didn’t seem to be depressed to anyone who truly knew him,” the statement continued. “EVERYONE who knew our brother was shocked to hear that he allegedly hung himself and don’t believe it to be true as well as the people who were there when his body was discovered. The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible.”

“There are many ways to die but considering the current racial tension, a black man hanging himself from a tree definitely doesn’t sit well with us right now. We want justice not comfortable excuses,” according to the statement.

The first firefighters to arrive on scene encountered bystanders performing CPR on Harsch, Victorville spokeswoman Sue Jones said.

“Our Fire Personnel took over and initiated advanced life support care protocol in an effort to restore a heart beat, she said in a written statement. “After 20 minutes, their resuscitation efforts were discontinued, which is in accordance with established protocols.”

Malcolm Harsch, 38, of Victorville, pictured in an undated photo provided by family.
Malcolm Harsch, 38, of Victorville, pictured in an undated photo provided by family.

Jones said the city offered its sympathies to the Harsch family.

“We grieve for Malcolm’s family and extend our deepest condolences,” she said. “We understand the gravity of this situation and the family’s desire for answers.  We want the lines of communication to remain open with the family, particularly knowing that they live out of state.  We will be watching closely to see the results of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department investigation.”

Meanwhile, roughly 50 miles away in Los Angeles County, the family of Robert L. Fuller, a 24-year-old black man found hanged from a tree near Palmdale City Hall Wednesday, were joined by city and county officials in their calls for an independent investigation into his death.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Saturday that Fuller’s death appeared to be a suicide, repeating the initial findings made by local authorities. Loved ones said they do not believe Fuller would have committed suicide.

As in the Victoville death, however, coroner’s officials have yet to determine an official cause of death.

Editor’s note: If you are feeling distressed or concerned for a loved one’s wellbeing, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also call a loved one, member of the clergy or 911.

The California Peer-Run Warm Line also offers free support for nonemergency mental health issues, and can be reached at 855-845-7415 on 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

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