Authorities in Louisiana made an arrest in the mysterious death of Quawan Charles on Tuesday.
Janet Irvin was one of the last people to see Charles alive. She picked him up from his father’s home in Baldwin, Louisiana, on Oct. 30 without getting permission from the teen’s parents or even notifying them.
She took him to her rural mobile home some 25 miles away in Loureauville so he could party with her teenage son. Some drug use was admittedly involved. But when Charles went missing from Irvin’s home, she waited days before reporting his disappearance to authorities.
Iberia Parish Sheriff Tommy Romero announced Irvin’s arrest late Tuesday afternoon. The 37-year-old white woman was booked on the felony charge of failure to report a missing child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
“I’m confident that my office has put together an extremely strong case against Mrs. Irvin,” Romero said in a brief video statement.
He noted that he spoke to Charles’ parents following the arrest and emphasized more charges could follow.
“I hope that this arrest begins to help their family heal, and by no means is this case closed,” the sheriff said.
The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office has been investigating Charles’ death as a homicide for the past three months. Irvin’s charges marked the first arrest made in relation to the case.
It’s a key shoe to fall in the Charles family’s push for answers. Loved ones have been on quest to find out what happened to the 15-year-old Black teen since he was found lying face down in a sugar cane field ditch on Nov. 3. They applauded Irvin’s arrest but cautioned that they expect more arrests to follow.
“Although Janet Irvin has been arrested, we are far from close to the finish line,” Quawan’s cousin Celina Charles told Atlanta Black Star in a text message Wednesday. “There is still more work to do. I will be Quawan and my family’s anchor and voice until everyone that has played a role in my cousin’s murder is arrested and convicted!”
Charles’ family members celebrated the arrest Tuesday night with Stand Black, a local advocacy group that has worked with them since Quawan’s death.
“Today is a starting point, but this is a marathon and not a sprint. Now we must mobilize to change laws that protect against these sorts of atrocities,” Stand Black co-founder Jamal Taylor told KLFY 10, a CBS affiliate. “We must pass legislation that protects children, and laws that reform police accountability.”
Family members suspect foul play factored in Quawan’s death, and claim it may have been racially motivated. They also insist law enforcement didn’t treat his disappearance with enough urgency from the onset.
For the past five weeks, supporters have staged protests and pressured the Sheriff’s Office to file charges against Irvin. Ronald Haley, one of the family’s attorneys, called it the “first domino” and suggested it could loosen more information from Irvin’s circle of family and friends.
Celina Charles has clamored for accountability in her cousin’s death for months. She spoke out publicly calling for Irvin’s arrest.
“If it would have been a Black woman that went and picked up a white child, you know that they would be arrested already,” she said in an interview with Atlanta Black Star last month. “This lady needs to be incarcerated. This lady needs to be arrested, she needs to be all charged and she needs to be convicted.”
Chase Trichell, one of the family’s attorneys, credited Stand Black and Quawan’s family members for mounting an unrelenting campaign that led to Irvin’s arrest.
“Though it took 103 days — despite our team providing ample evidence to authorities during that interim — Quawan’s family is encouraged by this news,” he tweeted.
A chilling photo of Quawan Charles’ mutilated face spread quickly in a post on social media. His skin was scarred and portions of his flesh had been ripped away, baring his teeth, an image that the post compared against a photo of the body of Emmett Till after that 14-year-old Black boy was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
The Sheriff’s Office released a few new details about their investigation in a statement Tuesday. Detectives from the agency’s Bureau of Investigations interviewed several witnesses and collected forensic evidence. The Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office completed the final autopsy report as well as toxicology results last week. Both those reports were released to Charles’ family.
Investigators arrested Irvin about 11 a.m. Tuesday in Lafayette Parish, which neighbors Iberia Parish. Authorities initially booked her into the Lafayette Parish Correctional Facility, but she was later transferred to the Iberia Parish Jail. No bond was set Tuesday.
Irvin’s family was evicted from their trailer home shortly after Quawan’s death.
A team of attorneys representing the Charles family hired a private investigator who questioned Irvin and her 17-year-old son, who was friends with Quawan Charles. The two teens attended school together in Youngsville, Louisiana, where Charles had lived with his mother, Roxanna Nelson.
Charles was originally reported missing Oct. 30 when he vanished from his father’s Baldwin, Louisiana home. Surveillance video showed Irvin and her son pick him up from the home that afternoon without his parents’ knowledge or consent.
The trio travelled to the Irvin family’s trailer home in Loreauville, Louisiana, a village about 25 miles away. Irvin’s teenage son told the private investigator he and Charles “smoked some weed” together.
Irvin could be heard in an audio recording telling the investigator Charles stormed out of the trailer while she was away. She claimed her son told her Charles woke up and started swinging at him with his eyes closed then left the trailer saying he was going to kill himself. She said she briefly searched for Charles with her son and boyfriend, but they stopped, figuring he called someone to come pick him up. She never reached out to his parents or authorities.
“Yes, I should’ve called the cops. I should’ve went further,” Irvin told the private investigator. She didn’t report Charles missing until Nov. 2, more than a day after she says he vanished from her custody.
It was Nelson who on Nov. 3 notified the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office that Charles may be missing in their jurisdiction. Deputies pinged the teen’s cellphone to track his body to a drainage ditch along the headland of a sugar cane field adjacent to Ed Broussard Road. It was within walking distance of Irvin’s home.
Irvin and her inner circle floated the narrative that Charles got high on hallucinogens and wandered from her home on his own. But Charles’ family attorneys released results from an independent toxicology last month, which found no evidence of hallucinogens in his bloodstream.
Charles has undergone two autopsies — one by the coroner and another by a private medical examiner hired by the family’s legal team. Both concluded that he likely drowned.
The coroner’s preliminary findings suggested Charles’ disfiguring facial injuries were postmortem wounds caused by “aquatic animal activity” in the shallow water where authorities found his body face down.
The final autopsy report, completed Feb. 5, said Charles was unclothed when investigators found him. It indicates there were no signs of a struggle prior to the teen’s death, making a “homicidal drowning unlikely.”
A witness reportedly saw Charles crawling in culverts behind a school near the sugar cane field, according to the autopsy report. He was also captured on surveillance video wandering alone near the drainage ditch.
It remains unclear how or why Charles drowned. Pathologists suggests he may have been hallucinating due to psychosis and accidentally drowned. The autopsy goes on to say suicide by drowning is rare.
“The uncertainties about whether this drowning represents an accidental, suicidal, or homicidal death makes an undetermined manner of death most appropriate likely,” the report stated.