Black Teen's Mysterious Death Investigated as a Homicide

Disfigured body was found in ankle-deep water
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 16, 2020 4:13 PM CST
Black Teen's Mysterious Death Investigated as a Homicide
This undated photo provided by the family through the NAACP shows Quawan Charles.   (Family Photo/Courtesy of NAACP via AP)

When the family of 15-year-old Qauwan "Bobby" Charles reported him missing on Oct. 30, police in Baldwin, Louisiana told them the boy was probably at a football game, an attorney for the family says. No Amber Alert was issued. Four days later, the Black teenager was found dead in a sugar cane field 20 miles away from his home, with his face badly disfigured. Family members, who believe race may have played a role in the police response, marched with scores of activists and community members Saturday to demand transparency in the case, USA Today reports. More:

  • Death is being investigated as a homicide. The Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office, which covers the area where Quawan's body was found, says they are treating the case as a homicide investigation, "as we do in any case involving someone found deceased in this manner," NBC reports.
  • Coroner's report. The parish coroner's office said drowning was the likely cause of death, noting that Quawan had muddy water in his airways. The preliminary report released Friday said there was no evidence of pre-death injury and states that the facial injuries were probably caused by "aquatic animals." A lawyer for the family notes that the body was found in ankle-deep water and there were no bodies of water deeper than 2 feet in the nearby area.

  • "It appears something hateful happened." Ron Haley, a lawyer for the family, tells the New York Times that "it appears something hateful" happened to the teen. "Whether this was an intentional act or grossly negligent indifference for human life, it’s still horrible, he says. "If in fact he did die of drowning—and we’re saying that as an if—we’re calling into question how exactly that would have happened," Haley says. "Can somebody who’s 5-foot-6 typically drown in two feet of water? No, not unless there’s another cause associated with that."
  • Friend's mom picked him up "without permission." The Washington Post reports that according to Quawan's family, he was picked up from his father's home around 3pm the day he disappeared by a 17-year-old friend and his mother. Quawan's father says Gavin and Janet Irvin, who are white, did not have permission to take the boy. Police say the Irvins told them Quawan left their home alone. His body was found near the Irvins' home on Nov. 3, hours after his parents contacted the sheriff's office.
  • Activists fault police response. Local activist Andre Arceneaux tells the Times that race likely played a role in the response of Baldwin police, who did not look for Quawan at the football game they told his family he was probably at. "Regardless of whether this was racially motivated or not, regardless of what the situation surrounding his death may be, the fact that the police departments didn’t act the way they would’ve acted if Quawan was a 15-year-old white girl named Katie, that’s the problem," he says.
  • Sheriff "working to ensure no stone is left unturned." Iberia Parish Sheriff Tommy Romero says the death is being thoroughly investigated and his office is "working hard to ensure no stone is left unturned. "We have obtained and reviewed video evidence showing Quawan ‘Bobby’ Charles near that area," he said in a statement Saturday, per the AP. "Video evidence indicates no other individuals present with Quawan ‘Bobby’ Charles or anyone else present for some time before, or after, he is seen on the recording."
  • Family releases graphic photo. For a GoFundMe appeal for funds to pay for Quawan's burial and an independent autopsy, the teen's mother released a graphic photo, showing the boy with part of his face missing, exposing teeth. The appeal page put the photo side-by-side with a photo of the mangled face of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
(More Louisiana stories.)

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