Quawan “Bobby” Charles is a 15-year-old Louisiana boy who went missing for several days before his dead body was discovered in an “unidentified wooded area,” according to a statement from his family’s lawyers.
Charles’ family has accused law enforcement of mishandling the boy’s disappearance — which the department strongly denied — by not issuing an Amber Alert, which police never did. The family has also said they believe the police mishandled Charles’ death by refusing to release the manner of his death for nearly two weeks.
Given the circumstances of his disappearance and the disfigurement of his body, the family has compared his death to the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till. In a GoFundMe page (Warning: the image on the page is extremely disturbing), the family has raised more than $275,000 for his burial; the image includes a disturbing comparison of Emmett Till’s casket photo and the photo Charles’ mother took of his face after he was found dead. In the photo, one side of Charles’ face is discolored and part of his lips are missing, leaving his teeth exposed.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Charles Was Devoted to His Dog & Called It ‘My Baby’
According to The Washington Post, Charles was a student, who had just moved in with his father, Kenneth Jacko, and transferred schools from Southside High School in Youngsville, Louisiana to Baldwin.
Despite being just a few months away from his sixteenth birthday, Charles was a slender young man, standing 5-foot-7 and only 112 pounds, Charles’ father told The Post that his son had started eating “peanut butter protein snacks” and weightlifting to fill out his frame. “He was growing up and talking to me and stuff. Father-to-son stuff,” Jacko said.
The paper also reported that Charles had made some big changes this year, saving enough money from his weekly allowance to buy a computer and getting a dog. According to The Post, Jacko said that a 17-year-old named Gavin Irvin had given their Charles a dog that he named “My Baby.”
Jacko described Charles as devoted to the dog and said, “That’s why, when Quawan came up missing, I couldn’t understand why he left the dog behind.”
The family believes Gavin is one of the last people to see Charles alive.
2. Charles Was Last Seen on October 30, 2020
— Jennifer (@Jennifer1493) November 13, 2020
According to a statement from lawyers for the family, the family obtained information about who Charles was last with from an unidentified friend, who told them that he was last seen getting into a car with a male and female.
According to a statement from the family’s lawyers, a woman named Janet Irvin and her 17-year-old son “took Bobby from his home without his parents’ permission.” Charles’ mother, Roxanne Nelson, noticed him missing around 3 p.m. and called to find where he was. After not hearing from anyone on his whereabouts and failing to find him themselves, Nelson and Charles’ father called 911 and reported their son missing to the Baldwin Police Department and West St. Mary Sheriff’s Office at around 8 p.m.
Video footage released by the Baldwin Police Department and reported by local news station KATC showed Charles sitting outside his family home and, and after a silver car passed, running after the vehicle. That vehicle picked up Charles and then returned to his family home, where three people emerged from the vehicle.
According to CBS News, they entered the backyard of Charles’ home, before all returning to the car and driving away.
Jacko told The Washington Post that Charles and Iberia Parish officers went to the Irvins’ home on November 3, and Gavin told them that he and Charles had wanted to spend time together that day. “(Gavin) said Quawan got up and said he was leaving. (Gavin) asked about where Quawan was going, and after that, he disappeared,” Jacko said. Jacko also said that despite searching the home, police did not find anything suspicious.
3. Charles’ Family Has Questioned Law Enforcement’s Response
Absolutely dishonorable police department. They would rather investigate the victim than bring his killers to justice. They can't even say Quawan Charles; he's just "a body" to them #JusticeforQuawan #QuawanCharles #blm pic.twitter.com/JUs5u8Lywo
— ☆Jordan☆ (@jorgeebelll) November 12, 2020
Family lawyers and members of Charles’ family said that they did not feel the police took their son’s case seriously once they reported him missing. According to a statement from the family’s lawyers, “To pacify the family, law enforcement said that Bobby was probably at (a) football game and dismissed their fears. Despite the family’s pleas, no Amber Alert was ever issued.”
Attorneys also told KATC that the police department, which said that Charles’ case did not rise to the level of an Amber Alert, did not follow their own protocol by listing Charles’ case as Level II, which would have prompted an “Endangered/Missing Child Advisory” action plan. According to the attorneys, “Louisiana State Police never utilized its own ‘Louisiana Level II – Media Advisory’ form in response to Quawan “Bobby” Charles’ disappearance from his home in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. Had this been done, perhaps Quawan would still be alive today. Other measures could have also been taken, or taken sooner.”
The family’s lawyers also said that the family was forced to investigate his whereabouts themselves and Attorney Ronald Haley told The Washington Post that the police waited for three days to ping Charles’ cell phone. “That’s how they knew where to narrow the search for him,” he said.
Even after Charles was found, the family’s lawyers said that the parish’s refusal to release the autopsy results led to an unnecessary expense for the family:
Due to the lack of transparency, collective indifference, and moral failings of law enforcement, Bobby’s family has been forced to undertake the serious financial cost and enormous emotional stress of arranging for an independent autopsy in order to get any answers about Bobby’s death. The cost of this independent autopsy was not just financial for Bobby’s family — it has greatly worsened the grieving process by delaying when they can put their child to rest.
Baldwin Assistant Chief of Police Samuel Wise disputed that the agency had failed to take Charles’ case seriously and told Louisiana news station KLFY, “We did not drop the ball. We did everything in our power to help this family.”
“We started thinking, started talking, started hitting the streets, started beating the streets initially,” Wise said, noting that the department filed a missing person report at 10:34 p.m. the night his family reported him missing. “My officer stayed in touch with the family the whole weekend. The father told me himself that my officer stayed in touch with him the entire weekend trying to locate his kid because we do care,” Wise said.
ABC News reported that Charles was entered into the National Crime Information Center database as a missing person or runaway, according to a police report.
Iberia Parish Sheriff Tommy Romero released a statement in which he assured the public that his agency was taking the case seriously and want to “ensure no stone is left unturned in an effort to find the truth,” according to USA Today.
“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,” Romero said in the release, according to USA Today. “Any loss of life is a tragedy and that is especially true when it is a young person.”
The Daily Advertiser reported that Katherine Breaux, the sheriff’s office spokesperson, said investigators have been “actively and aggressively gathering evidence.”
4. An Independent Autopsy Determined Charles Died by Drowning
quawan charles was fifteen years old. no more than a child. his body was found twenty miles from his home, his face horribly disfigured. the police ruled it as a drowning. the family believes this was racially motivated, but thirteen days later, and the police have done nothing. pic.twitter.com/4Ir85M1ksv
— madeline BLM (@madelinemarks_) November 19, 2020
On November 3, Iberia Parish sheriffs found Charles dead in a sugar cane field 20 miles away from his home, according to The Daily Advertiser.
Autopsy results from the Iberia Parish coroner state that Charles’ death occurred November 3 at around 8 p.m. and the preliminary cause was “likely drowning.” The evidence of drowning, according to the autopsy report, was “Muddy water in airways, hyperinflated lungs, water in sphenoid sinuses.” The autopsy also noted that he had not died of “natural disease” and also concluded that “post-mortem injuries on the face are likely aquatic animal activity from the decedent being found in water” as well as actions taken during the autopsy.
The autopsy, although it was conducted on November 4, was released to the public on November 13. You can read it here.
One of the family’s biggest complaints was that it had taken the police department an abnormally long time to release the results of the autopsy. Haley told ABC News, “We believe that if he had been of a different color that this will be taken a lot more seriously. We (would) not be talking today about 13 days have gone by, with no leads, 13 days have gone by with no answer, 13 days have gone by without (the) official cause of death.”
According to a story from The Daily Advertiser, an independent autopsy conducted by “American Forensics” also founded that he had died in a manner “consistent with drowning” and there had been no evidence of trauma or natural disease.
The Daily Advertiser, however, reported that the Baldwin Police Department is investigating Charles’ death as a homicide.
5. Charles’ Death Has Led to Protests in Louisiana
— DC3 SQUAD (@DC3_SQUAD) November 14, 2020
USA Today reported that Charles’ death led to local activists and members of the community demanding justice and accountability from the Baldwin Police Department. A group of 100 people gathered into the old Baldwin Police Department and to the new one, located in City Hall.
The paper reported that activist Jamal Taylor said, “We want cooperation. The family needs the details. They need to know where they’re at in the steps of the investigation. That mom deserves truth.”
The ACLU of Louisiana also released a statement on November 11 that accused law enforcement of being “slow to notify Quawan’s family about his death” and “consistently fail(ing) to provide information to the family.” Here is additional information written by the state chapter’s executive director, Alanah Odoms Herbert:
The disrespect and lack of transparency demonstrated by local officials in response to Bobby’s tragic and suspicious death is unacceptable,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “We join the family in demanding a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bobby’s death. This family is grieving and deserves answers – not disrespect and stonewalling. We send our deepest condolences to Bobby’s family during this terrible time, and will continue to stand in solidarity with them and all those demanding justice.
BREAKING: We're calling for an investigation into the death of Quawan Charles who was found dead in a sugarcane field in Iberia Parish, LA. The egregious disregard of Quawan’s life follows centuries of indifference toward the humanity of Black children. https://t.co/lTZ0g72f8J
— Legal Defense Fund (@NAACP_LDF) November 19, 2020
USA Today reported that family and activists have planned a rally at the governor’s mansion on November 28.