Authorities are investigating the the mysterious death of Black teenager Quawan “Bobby” Charles, whose body was found in a Louisiana sugar cane field, as a homicide, they said.
The announcement came Saturday after relatives of Charles, 15, and local civil rights groups called for an independent investigation and raised questions about whether his race played a role in how law enforcement officials handled his case so far.
Charles’ body was found on Nov. 3 in a sugar cane field near the village of Loreauville, about 20 miles from his father’s home in Baldwin. His mother first reported him missing on Oct. 30.
A lawyer for the family said last week that it was unclear why officials hadn’t issued an Amber Alert after he disappeared or how he could have drowned — the likely cause of death listed in the autopsy report — when his body was found in shallow water.
The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office did not say why it is investigating his death as a homicide.
“Just as we do in any case involving someone found deceased in this manner, we immediately began treating this as a homicide investigation at the very moment we found Quawan “Bobby” Charles,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement Saturday.
The sheriff’s office also said that it had not been alerted to Charles’ disappearance until Nov. 3, when one of his parents contacted the office.
Charles’ mother had initially reported him missing to her local police department in the town of Baldwin, and the department then notified the local sheriff’s office in St. Mary Parish, the statement said.
It was not immediately clear why the sheriff’s office in St. Mary Parish didn’t alert authorities in nearby Iberia Parish, where Charles’ body was found. A St. Mary spokesperson didn’t respond Sunday night to a request for comment.
Investigators found Charles’ body hours after learning of his disappearance, the sheriff’s office said in the statement, adding that it was “actively and aggressively” gathering evidence and conducting interviews.
Investigators reviewed video evidence from an area near where Charles’ body was found that showed him on camera before his death and no one else with him, the statement said.
The sheriff’s office said it was awaiting toxicology results and declined to provide additional details about Charles’ death because the investigation was ongoing.
A lawyer for the family, Chase Trichell, said Sunday that he was heartened that the sheriff’s office was investigating Charles’ death as a homicide.
“No able-bodied 15-year-old is going to drown in ankle-deep water without some outside influence that contributed to his death,” he said.
Still, he said that neither the family nor their lawyers have heard from Iberia Parish Sheriff Thomas Romero about possible leads, theories and other findings, despite a request Friday for a meeting.
A spokesperson for the sheriff could not immediately say if Romero would meet with them.