The Houston Police Department is investigating the death of a Black man found in the water near a local bar. The young man had been missing for almost two weeks, and authorities are trying to figure out if his death was a tragic accident or a result of foul play.
On Friday, Nov. 25, Delano Burkes’ body was found floating in the Houston Ship Channel near 9601 High Level Road. The 26-year-old’s family had been looking for him since he went missing on Nov. 13, and he was last seen alive exiting a bar in the Heights early that morning, according to KHOU.
After he went missing, his family members formed a search party to find him, passing out flyers and his picture in the area where he was last seen.
During a press conference, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee asked for the community to come together to help find this young man, partnering with Crime Stoppers to offer a $5,000 reward for information that helps lead investigators to his whereabouts.
At the time, the representative said, “We want to find Mr. Burkes. No family should have to experience this.”
An HPD dive team and Texas EquuSearch, a search and recovery nonprofit, canvassed the water looking for Burkes for days, but the effort came to a halt after a person in a tugboat discovered a human body floating in the waterway close to 15 miles away from the bar.
HPD Protocol requires the body to be sent over to the medical examiners and other authorities in the HPD’s Homicide Unit, where his death would be treated as a homicide. However, at the time, no one is a suspect. Officials aren’t ruling out the possibility of Burkes falling into the water after a night of drinking.
On Tuesday HPD spokesperson Jodi Silva said at first examination it “did not show any signs of foul play.”
Tim Miller, the founder of the Texas EquuSearch, said his company and crew were particularly invested in finding Burkes and said he knew it was Burkes’ body when it was pulled out.
He said, “We put a lot of effort in that search. We knew that it was him but of course, we had to wait for positive ID.”
“Hopefully the investigation will put our speculations behind us and hopefully come out with the truth,” Miller added.
Surveillance video captured some of the moments before the man went missing.
Earlier on Friday evening, Nov. 12, Burkes allegedly went out with some friends his mother believes he had not seen in a while. According to reports, they were all in a car, but at some point, the driver pulled over into a restaurant parking lot near Bevis and West 19th and 20th Streets.
Burkes was said to have exited the vehicle and gone into a nearby establishment called McIntyre’s, a bar at 1230 W. 20th St. while wearing blue pants and a plaid, button-up shirt that was black and gray. He originally stopped at the spot to use the restroom, but relatives said he stayed to watch TV.
Burkes stayed in McIntyre’s until he was allegedly asked to leave. As he left, the footage shows him stumbling down the street alone near some bars.
Relatives of the deceased say the man did not have an ID, that the friends left the bar without him and at some point, during the night his phone battery died. They also believe he was drugged based on the surveillance video.
Burkes’ mother, Karen Jeffly, said, “He was with a friend that he hadn’t seen in a while … They left him at the club. They had been there for a while, they were watching a fight, so he was tipsy. In the video, you can tell he was tipsy but we also feel like there was more involved … we feel like he was drugged, too.”
HPD Asst. Chief K.J. Deese is not quick to say narcotics were involved in this case.
“We do not have any information to suggest that he was drugged or slipped anything, (but) we can’t rule that out,” Deese remarked, adding, they’re “not saying it didn’t happen.”
Jeffly also said at a press conference, according to Houston Public Media, “We don’t know what happened. We’re still trying to find out what happened. We’re just really asking the public if they saw him if they have some information if they could be sure to call (HPD) and give that information to the officers.”
A spokesperson for the Harris County medical examiner’s office, Michele Arnold, made a statement to the press that said Burkes’ cause and manner of death are still undetermined. She also said she did not know a timeline for when the young man’s autopsy might be completed.
Jackson Lee, who reports say has been in close contact with the family, issued a statement after his body was discovered.
“I want to thank the layers of police, with HPD as a lead, that began this investigation as a missing person’s investigation,” the congresswoman said.
She continued, “They’re still pursuing it, but as this individual has not been determined to have died of natural causes, then it is likely a homicide. That means the person did not die by natural causes.
“There may be a lot of information that could help this family have closure, and comfort during this difficult time. We want to ask people to continue to help us find out what happened to Delano Burkes,” said Jackson Lee.