Jean James Charles is the father of Azuree Charles, the 9-year-old New Kensington, Pennsylvania boy who was found dead near his home. Jean Charles was arrested on charges unrelated to the murder investigation of the boy.
Investigators said they have a person of interest in the homicide case, but they did not name the person of interest or the suspect. Jean Charles, 40, is lodged in Westmoreland County Prison, according to his jail record.
Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli identified the boy in a news conference Thursday, May 5, 2022. The boy was found dead behind his Haser Drive home near a shed Wednesday, May 4, after he was reported missing the night before, officials said. Westmoreland County Coroner Timothy Carson ruled the manner of death as a homicide.
New Kensington is 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. The boy’s cause of death has not been released. Azuree lived in East Ken Manor, a Westmoreland County Housing Authority complex, officials said.
The office of the district attorney is seeking the help of the public in its investigation. Ziccarelli said in an earlier statement Thursday investigators were setting up a command post in the boy’s neighborhood. Detectives are asking anyone with information to contact the office and to share any surveillance footage from their homes. Investigators can be reached at 724-339-7533. A joint investigation was launched involving county detectives, New Kensington Police and neighboring police departments.
Azuree is being remembered by neighbors as a gentle boy who was a friend to all. He was a cancer survivor and had three younger sisters, neighbors told WPXI. Azuree was an elementary student in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jean Charles Was Arrested on Charges Related to Child Abuse Filed in December & Denied Bail
Jean Charles was arrested May 5 on misdemeanor child abuse charges filed in December by the New Kensington Police Department. Charles, of Brackenridge, is listed as homeless. He was denied bail in the case, according to his docket sheet. Court documents say “no combination of conditions will assure defendant’s appearance at his preliminary hearing,” listing homelessness as a reason.
Charles is charged in the case with simple assault and endangering the welfare of children for an alleged incident November 16, 2021. Charles requested a public defender to represent him, his court documents say. His preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for 10:30 a.m. May 19, 2022, before Magisterial District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr.
The Westmoreland County Prison inmate list says Charles was lodged in the jail May 5, 2022, and is housed in Unit B.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the child abuse case and reviewed by Trib Live, a Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau case worker told a New Kensington Police Department detective that she had seen the child victim with discoloration and bruising to his eye. The complaint did not name the victim, but described him as a 9-year-old boy. Azuree Charles had younger sisters, according to friends of the family. The boy told police “my dad punched me in the eye,” Trib Live reported, citing court documents.
“The boy said his father, Charles, punched him in the eye because he was making noise in his bedroom. The boy had a bruise under his eye in the morning, and told his mother,” Trib Live reported.
2. Jean Charles Was Sentenced to Probation in a Previous Simple Assault Case Filed in 2019
Charles faced a previous misdemeanor simple assault charge in 2019, and has faced a series of charges related to driving without a license and driving without insurance, according to his court records.
Charles pleaded guilty to the 2019 simple assault charge in 2020 and was sentenced to serve a maximum of two years probation, according to court documents.
3. The New Kensington Community Held a Vigil for Azuree, Whose Body Was Found After He Did Not Show Up at the Bus Stop
Members of the New Kensington community, including the young friends of Azuree, gathered for a vigil to honor the short life of the 9-year-old boy Thursday night. Many of the elementary school students told WTAE about their memories of playing with Azuree outside.
“He was the nicest person I ever met. We like to ride our bikes and we would always play,” 9-year-old Azalynn Lookhart told WTAE.
Michele Arce, another community member, told WTAE that explaining the death to young children was heart wrenching.
“When you have kids, it’s just heartbreak,” Arce told WTAE. “Then having to wait for our kids to come home from the bus and see all the caution tape and having to explain what happened, it’s a stab in the heart.”
Brittany Bush, who organized the event, told WTAE that she wants to see justice served. Bush told the news outlet she organized the event because the community and its children needed to come together to grieve so they could process the tragedy.
“We just needed to do this for these kids out here. It’s sad, everybody needs to come together at a moment like this,” Bush told the news station. “I want justice for him, whoever did this, I hope they get everything coming to them.”
Osie Taylor, a 70-year-old neighbor, found the body of the boy after he did not show up at the bus stop, according to WPXI. The body was found under a lawn chair in a wooded area close to Azuree’s home.
“I knew something wasn’t right because my lawn chair was out of place,” Taylor told the Tribune-Review.
Taylor told the outlet that when the boy was reported missing Tuesday night, he offered to help police look for him because he knew the areas where the neighborhood kids often played. The boy was found clothed, Taylor told the Tribune-Review, but he wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks.
Ziccarelli released few details on the case in a press conference. She said investigators were dispatched at 6:18 a.m. Wednesday. She added that investigators are determined to bring justice to the case.
“To our community at large, hold your children close,” she said. “They are our most precious gifts. We will not rest until we determine what or who caused this child’s death.”
4. Azuree Was a Pediatric Cancer Survivor Who Recovered One Year Before the Murder
Neighbors told local news outlets that Azuree was a pediatric cancer survivor. WPXI reported Azuree “beat cancer” last year. Neighbor Osie Taylor told Trib Live he did not know details of the boy’s sickness, but knew that he had been sick and had endured many operations.
KDKA reported Azuree “was enjoying a second chance at life.”
“All he does is ride his bike and play with his sister and for something like this to happen to him, it’s unbelievable. It’s got to stop, whatever is going on,” Taylor told KDKA.
The death of Azuree left his neighbors mourning and shaken, they told local news outlets. Neighbor Gina Pace told WPXI she often saw the boy outside playing.
“You would’ve never thought that him out here playing so jovial, you would’ve never knew that little boy was laying up there fighting for his life, for him to come back so full of life,” Pace told WPXI.
Pace told Trib Live Azuree was handsome and smart.
“This is a severe tragedy, and it hits close to home,” Pace told the newspaper. “We know that boy. He had a very good disposition. He was a handsome, smart little guy.”
Brittney Sneed, another neighbor and a mother of three, told Trib Live she was worried for the safety of her children.
“We don’t know what happened,” she told the newspaper. “We have kids; I don’t know what to think.”
She told the newspaper Azuree would sometimes play with her children.
“I’m worried. I think we should all be worried,” she told the newspaper. “He’s a child, and the way he was found, it was just scary.”
5. Azuree Had 3 Younger Sisters & Was Raised By His Mom
Azuree was the oldest in a family of four children, Taylor told Trib Live. He had four younger sisters, and they were being raised by their mom in the housing complex, Taylor told the newspaper.
“He was a very gentle, nice kid,” Taylor told the newspaper. “He laughed all the time and played with his sisters all the time. He was a very, very nice kid, always well mannered. He got along well with everybody.”
Taylor told Trib Live he has lived in East Ken Manor for 10 years and knows Azuree’s mom. He said the mom was often spending time with her children, and seemed to be an attentive mother.
“She was always outside with the kids,” Taylor told Trib Live. “She was one of the few that took care of their kids.”
Taylor said he felt close to the boy as though he were his own relative.
“It just breaks my heart. It feels like it happened to me,” Taylor told Trib Live. “The kid was like one of my kids or one of my grandkids.”
New Kensington-Arnold School District Dr. Chris Sefcheck sent out a letter to families in the school district announcing the death of the boy, without releasing his name, and encouraging parents and guardians to keep an eye on the mental health of their children.
“It is with heavy heart that I share news that one of our elementary students passed away suddenly sometime this morning before school,” the letter said. “A tragedy like this is not easy to accept, while causing many levels of grief across our close-knit community.”
The letter said that grief counselors were being made available to students and faculty in the district.
“If your student talks with you about being grief stricken over losing a friend or classmate, please let them know that the schools are doing everything they can to help and to please speak with their teacher when they get to school tomorrow,” the letter said. “Please keep the family and our community in your thoughts and reflections through this challenging time.”