Authorities are now treating the death of a 15-year-old Black teen whose body was found in a rural Louisiana town as a homicide.
Iberia Parish Sheriff Tommy Romero issued a statement Saturday, Nov. 14, revealing more details into the death investigation of Quawan “Bobby” Charles.
That came on the heels of the parish’s coroner, Carl M. Ditch, releasing preliminary autopsy findings that suggest Charles drowned and “aquatic animals” gnawing on his flesh post mortem are the cause of his mangled, mutilated face.
Results from an independent autopsy done by American Forensics, a Texas-based company hired by Charles’ family, were released Monday, Nov. 16. But the autopsies did little to quell the concerns of loved ones and supporters, who remain convinced that foul play was afoot.
“We’re still waiting to get more evidence,” said Andre Arceneaux, a local advocate who’s helping Charles’ family in their campaign for answers. “Sure, there was evidence of drowning. But there is the possibility that drowning could’ve been the manner of death and not the cause. There’s still the possibility that somebody pushed his head into the water.”
Charles was reported missing Friday, Oct. 30, and his body was found Nov. 3 in an empty sugarcane field off Ed Broussard Road near Loreauville, Louisiana — about 25 miles from his father’s Baldwin, Louisiana, home.
Charles’s family has retained civil rights attorneys Ronald Haley, Chase Trichell, Deidrick Moore, Ryan Thompson and advocacy group Stand Black, which Arceneaux founded.
The family’s team of attorneys issued a statement over the weekend casting aspersions on the early medical findings, which are subject to change pending the final autopsy report and any evidence from the criminal investigation.
“Any water in the sugar cane field where Bobby was found has been reported as ‘ankle deep,’ indicating Bobby could not have drowned without outside influences,” the lawyers’ press release stated.
Roxanne Nelson, Charles’ mother, reported his disappearance after she made multiple unsuccessful attempts to reach him. Family members were unavailable for comment as of press time.
Arceneaux explained to the Atlanta Black Star that Nelson planned to pick her son up from the Baldwin residence for a haircut around 3 p.m. the day he went missing. When she couldn’t reach him, she began calling his father, who wasn’t home at the time. When the father returned home from work, he knocked on Charles’ bedroom door.
There was no answer.
He eventually ripped the door down and realized that his son was not in the bedroom. That’s when panic set in for the family, Arceneaux said. Nelson called police shortly after 7 p.m. while driving up to Baldwin. When she got there, the parents flagged an officer down and reported Charles missing.
But family members say responding officers from the Baldwin Police Department and West St. May Sheriff’s Office shrugged off those initial concerns, telling them that the teen was likely at a football game.
Romero said his agency did not become involved until Nov. 3 when one of Charles’ parents notified deputies there that he may be missing in their jurisdiction. Iberia Parish deputies found him within hours, and Romero said detectives have been aggressively investigating the teen’s death as a homicide since the discovery.
“I want to assure the public that I, and my team, are doing everything we can, and following every lead, to gather evidence into what happened in the untimely death of Quawan ‘Bobby’ Charles,” the first-year sheriff stated. “Any loss of life is a tragedy and that is especially true when it is a young person. Although we believe it is important not to compromise any part of our investigation, we are prepared to release some details so that the public can be assured we are not resting in our effort to find the truth.”
Investigators are now awaiting a toxicology report. The sheriff’s statement revealed that detectives reviewed surveillance video that showed Charles alone near the field from which his corpse was recovered. Meanwhile, detectives spoke to an eyewitness who reportedly saw Charles in the vicinity.
Investigators have also questioned several other people who either knew Charles or may have had contact with him before he died. Among them is a group of people the teen was reportedly with shortly before he went missing. Officers searched their home and are tracing their whereabouts.
The sheriff’s statement would not specify who those people are. But Nelson has told local TV stations that her son was taken from their home by a white woman named Janet Irvin and Irvin’s 17-year-old son without her permission.
Charles attended school with Irvin’s teenage son in Youngsville, Louisiana, where his mother resides. The Baldwin Police Department released surveillance footage to KFLY-10 on Monday, Nov. 16, which shows Charles sitting on his front porch just after 1:30 p.m. the day of his disappearance. Irvin and her son pulled into his father’s driveway, they played with his dog in the backyard and all three drove away minutes later.
Irvin has an extensive history of drug, burglary and theft arrests, the Daily Mail reported. According to the Washington Post, they have been evicted from their trailer park home.
Protestors gathered in front of the Baldwin Police Department on Saturday demanding answers.
Investigators have not listed Irvin as a suspect.
Loved ones have described Charles as a quiet kid who loved fishing, riding his four-wheeler and playing with his dog.
Gruesome images of his darkened, disfigured face have circulated online, attracting national attention with sympathizers drawing parallels to the death of Emmett Till in 1955. Till became an iconic figure when he was lynched in Mississippi at the age of 14 after a white woman accused him of whistling at her. Imagery of his brutalized mask of a face laid bare the monstrosity of Jim Crow-era racial violence. The publicity of Till’s death sent shockwaves that rippled across continents and was a pivotal in moment in the civil rights movement.
One of Charles’ autopsy photos have evoked similar umbrage in his small Louisiana community. A cousin snapped the photo while family visited him in the Iberia Parish morgue to identify the body, Arceneaux said. The candidly raw visual shows Charles’ corpse in a partially sealed a body bag with portions of his cheek and mouth ripped away, baring his teeth.
Many are left wondering if authorities could have saved the young man’s life if they’d acted sooner and with more urgency. In the three days Charles was missing, no Amber Alert was ever issued to assist in locating him.
“The biggest issue, I think, right now is the fact that neither one of these agencies did their job,” Arceneaux said. “If they would’ve done their jobs, Quawan would still be alive. If they would’ve issued an AMBER Alert. If they would have actually searched for him whenever he was reported missing, and not left the investigation up to the family.”
Family attorneys say they’ve been told by Baldwin police officials that an officer reported Charles’ disappearance to Louisiana State Police and was notified that it didn’t meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert because there was no evidence the teen was abducted. It was not clear if police watched the surveillance video to make that determination.
While it didn’t meet the threshold for an AMBER notification, authorities still could have issued a level II endangered/missing child advisory to media outlets across Louisiana, according to protocols laid out on the State Police’s website
But Lt. Nick Manale, a Louisiana State Police spokesman, on Tuesday told the Atlanta Black Star that the state agency was never notified of Charles’ disappearance. According to Manale, state troopers joined in with the Iberia Parish homicide investigation on Nov. 13 and are conducting forensic analysis of a cellphone found with Charles’ remains.
Baldwin Police Department officials did not respond to the Atlanta Black Star.
Donations funneled en masse to a GoFundMe page to help Charles’ family members commission an independent autopsy on the teen. By this writing, the page had raised nearly $275,000.
According to the coroner’s report, Charles had muddy water in airways, his lungs were hyper-inflated lungs, and water was found in his sphenoid sinuses. Those are all signs of a likely drowning, Ditch indicated. The autopsy found no sign of pre-death injuries or diseases. And the coroner attributed all the cuts and wounds on Charles’ face to “aquatic animal activity.”
Likewise, the independent autopsy conducted by Texas-based American Forensics found “no evidence of trauma or natural disease,” according to The Advocate.
The family’s legal team noted that while Ditch surmised the death was a drowning, the coroner had yet to make the pivotal cause-of-death ruling. The legal team, in their Nov. 14 statement, also pointed out that Ditch never specified what he meant by “aquatic animal activity” or outlined “which carnivorous aquatic animals are capable of mutilating a human corpse.”
The graphic photos and mysteriousness surrounding his death have turned him into the latest heart wrenching hashtag. But his case has engendered national attention, with many asking if the investigation would have been handled differently from the onset if he were white.
Arceneaux said they’ve received messages of support from as far away as Australia and Berlin, Germany. Over the weekend, he surmised to the New York Times that if Charles was a 15-year-old white girl named Katie, the response would’ve been different. He reiterated that sentiment Tuesday.
“This was a child, and he needed the same treatment and respect and care that they would’ve given any other child,” Arceneaux told the Atlanta Black Star. “He was a scared little boy and something happened to him. And if he would’ve been a 15-year-old little white girl, the world would’ve stopped, the city would’ve stopped. The police would’ve shut the city down looking for her.
“Right now, we’re not even looking at it from the standpoint of race,” he added. “We’re looking at the systemic failure of two departments. That’s the saddest part of all this that they failed a child. And I think people are seeing that.”