The family of a murdered gay mayoral candidate in the US state of Mississippi has said that he was beaten, dragged and burned.

The body of Marco McMillian, 34, was found on Wednesday 27 February near the Mississippi River west of Clarksdale, the city where he was running for mayor on a platform of helping the poor and fighting crime.

Police charged Lawrence Reed, 22, from Shelby, Mississippi, in connection with murder soon after the body was discovered.

Reed had been identified driving McMillian’s car after the vehicle was involved in a head-on collision without the owner of the car inside.

McMillian, a Democrat, was widely regarded as one of the first openly gay political candidates in Mississippi.

According to the Los Angeles Times, his family said that he was beaten, dragged and burned, although officials have refused to comment on the claims.

McMillian’s family, in a prepared statement, said they were told by county officials that the body had been abused.

The family said: “This is a very difficult time for us,” before adding. “We know that Marco was brutally murdered. His body was found on Wednesday, February 26, 2013, beaten, dragged and burned (set afire). This was reported in our meeting with the local coroner on two occasions. We were informed that the official autopsy report could take two to four weeks to complete.

“We feel that this was not a random act of violence based on the condition of the body when it was found. Marco, nor anyone, should have their lives end in this manner.”

Will Rook, a spokesman for the Coahoma County sheriff’s office said he was aware of the family’s statement, but could not comment. He said that any motive for the murder was still being investigated.

The cause of death has so far not been made public.