The body of a 15-year-old Black teen found dead in a sugarcane field has family, community demanding answers
Quawan Charles, affectionately called “Bobby” by his family, was a quiet and humble person who always smiled. His first cousin, Celine Charles, said he liked to ride his four-wheeler, and he liked to fish. He died at the age of 15.
Quawan was found dead in a sugarcane field in Loreauville, Louisiana, and his family and the community want to know what happened. A preliminary coroner’s report released Nov. 13 from the Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office states the likely cause of death was drowning. Evidence of drowning included muddy water found in the airwaves and water found in the sinuses, the report stated. The report also states there were no visible injuries that occurred before his death. “There were no ante mortem injuries found on the decedent’s face at autopsy, meaning any lacerations to the face after the autopsy were due to autopsy procedure. Post-mortem injuries on the face are likely aquatic animal activity from the decedent being found in water.”
The final autopsy results, toxicology report and law enforcement investigation are pending.
Celine Charles recounted the events that took place starting Friday, October 30 around 3:00 p.m. Quawan was staying with his father, Kenneth Jacko, in Baldwin, Louisiana, a town located approximately two hours from the larger cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Roxanne Nelson, Quawan’s mother, called his father and asked about taking him to get a lineup on his hair. When Quawan’s father knocked on his bedroom door, the teen didn’t answer. Figuring that he was asleep, his mother called back a few hours later, and his father knocked on Quawan’s door again.
“There was no answer. So, Kenny kept knocking and Roxanne insisted that he keep knocking. Still no answer. So, at that point, Roxanne says she got a little frustrated. She told Kenny to break the door down. As he broke the door down, he discovered that there was no Quawan,” Celine Charles said.
Quawan’s mother called the Baldwin Police Department, and she and her husband made their way to Kenny’s house. On the way there, they flagged down a police officer and alerted him that Quawan was missing. The police officer told Roxanne that Quawan might have just been at a football game or with some friends, and he told Roxanne that he would put Quawan in the missing person’s database.
“A few days went by. Still no Quawan,” Ms. Charles said. November 2, Roxanne contacted one of Quawan’s friends, and she asked him if he had seen or heard from Quawan. The boy told her the last person he was seen with was a 17-year old boy, and he gave her the 17 year old’s phone number.
“The police end up calling the young lady, the mother, and the mother did tell the officer that she did have Quawan. But she said Quawan ended up running off or something,” Ms. Charles said. The mother and her 17-year-old son are White. “Quawan knew the son because Quawan went to school with the son. Quawan’s mom and dad, they didn’t know these people, but Quawan knew them,” she said.
Finally, on the night of November 3, police contacted Quawan’s father and told him they found Quawan face down in a creek in a sugarcane field in Loreauville, located about 22 miles from Baldwin. Family and activists still don’t know the full story of what happened. According to Ms. Charles, police told the family that Quawan drowned, and they ruled his death a homicide but were still investigating.
“There were no amber alerts. The news wasn’t alerted. The news media wasn’t alert about a child being missing or a body being found. So I came down on Nov. fifth, and I decided that I was going to do a vigil for him,” she said. Ms. Charles said she had contacted all three local news stations, and none knew about the situation. Quawan’s mother and father have both been actively involved in trying to get justice, but Ms. Charles told The Final Call she is acting as the family spokesperson because of their grief.
“I put it out on social media for people to be aware that a child was missing [since] October 30. And he was found on the third and still there’s no news media or nothing. Nobody knows anything, nobody heard anything. So, we decided to drop the picture of how we seen Quawan when he was brought to the funeral home,” she said.
The picture the family released is graphic. Many on social media have compared it to the picture of Emmett Till’s mutilated body, a 14-year-old Black boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after he was accused of flirting with a White woman.
“As I updated myself about the death of this brother, the history of Emmett Till continued to come to mind. My heart and prayers go out to the family of this young brother and we are willing to offer our support to the effort to find out what happened to him,” said Willie Muhammad, Nation of Islam student minister in New Orleans.
The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense has been on the ground working with local activists. Krystal Muhammad, the organization’s national chair, said Quawan is the victim of a hate crime.
“This young man was abducted on October 30. His parents notified the police when he was first abducted, and they did not issue out an amber alert. We receive amber alerts all the time. So, for them not to issue out an amber alert, that shows systemic racism,” she argued.
Baldwin is a city in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. Quawan’s mother made two calls: one to the Baldwin Police Department and one to a deputy from the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Baldwin Police Department’s Assistant Chief Samuel Wise III told The Final Call that no amber alert was issued, but that Quawan was put into the missing child database two hours after they realized he was not home and could not find him in Baldwin.
“An amber alert is if a child is abducted or being kidnapped or being by force drawn into a vehicle or dwelling to where it’s taken away from that property. We have no evidence that that even happened. No evidence that it happened. This thing is under investigation,” he said.
The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office is investigating Quawan’s case. “All suspicious deaths are treated as homicides until the Coroner’s Office or scientific evidence indicates otherwise. Investigators have interviewed multiple individuals and collected physical evidence regarding this case,” Katherine Breaux, the public affairs director for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, told The Final Call via email.
Ms. Muhammad said the woman Quawan was reportedly with allegedly had a bench warrant. Multiple activists told The Final Call that the family who had Quawan packed up and left in a U-Haul truck on the night of November 10.
“The family in question that picked him up before he disappeared, that family moved in the dark of night,” said Eugene Collins, the president of the NAACP’s Baton Rouge branch. “On all accounts, this seemed like a cover up from some extent. And from our standpoint, this family should at least be in custody until they figure out what happened after they picked him up, and nobody seems to know that.”
Lafayette activists Jamal Taylor, co-founder of a nonprofit Stand Black, and Devon Norman have been instrumental in helping the family fight for justice for Quawan. Mr. Taylor said the details of the case have been sporadic.
“They have not shared details besides them saying that he drowned, which is peculiar given the fact that the standing water there would not go above my kneecap,” he said.
He said what happened was reprehensible. “Had that been a 15-year-old White girl, every national news station would have been covering it by now,” said Mr. Taylor.
Activists from the New Black Panther Party, Stand Black and The Village, another local organization that has been involved in the fight for justice, went to a trailer park where Quawan was reported to be last seen.
“As soon as we got out of the vehicles into the caravan, it smelled like death. It smelled like something had been dead and the neighbors in that area came up to us. The people that stayed in the trailer park told us that the smell came around the time period when the young man would have been missing,” Ms. Muhammad said. “So not only were the police allowing the people who did this to get away with it, the sheriff as well as the police in that town of Loreauville and Baldwin have allowed the evidence to be tampered with, have not done a thorough investigation and have allowed these killers to escape free.”
Loreauville, where Quawan’s body was found, is about 10 miles away from New Iberia, a city that has a history of racial issues by police.
“If you look at the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department, which is the sheriff’s department that is responsible for investigating this case, about 10 years ago, they had about 10 deputies indicted and all convicted,” Mr. Collins said. “The sheriff escaped being convicted, but they were convicted of basically playing a racial game, where they would go out and essentially beat up Black kids for sport.”
Khadijah Rashad, an activist in the area for over 50 years, said the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department has a history of lying and hiding evidence. Several activists told The Final Call that there have been a lot of unsolved murders.
“My grandson, Raymond Shahid Bonnette, was killed in Iberia Parish jail when they picked him up for a warrant out for child support of a child he was already taking care of,” Ms. Rashad said. “That was July 21. He’s in jail for a couple of days and then two days before he was supposed to get out, he apparently committed suicide.”
She said her grandson had four children and had no reason to commit suicide. She recalled a 2014 case where a 22-year-old Black man, Victor White III, reportedly committed suicide while he was handcuffed in the back of a sheriff department squad car.
It was the case of Mr. White that sparked an investigation into the New Iberia Sherriff’s Department. According to the publication The Advocate, “White’s death prompted a wide-ranging probe of the office and its leader, Sheriff Louis Ackal. The probe uncovered jaw-dropping civil rights violations that led to 11 guilty pleas and a criminal trial against the sheriff himself. Ackal was acquitted, claiming he knew nothing about the abuses, but he declined to seek reelection. The city of New Iberia divorced itself from the sheriff’s office and formed its own police force.”
Ms. Charles said a young lady was recently murdered, and the last thing she said on the phone to her mother was that police were following her.
Others recalled even more incidents in Louisiana. Mr. Taylor thought about Ronald Greene, who was choked by a Louisiana State trooper in 2019. Ms. Muhammad brought up Alton Sterling, who was shot in 2016 by Baton Rouge police officers, and Trayford Pellerin, who was shot and killed by Lafayette police.
“This is a pattern. We’ve been dealing with a number of lynchings. About four lynchings in Mississippi, and it’s the same modus operandi when it comes to the police. When the FBI comes in or when the state police come in, all they do is cover the tracks of the White folks who committed the crime,” Ms. Muhammad charged. “They’re violating international law by failing to protect the people who are victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide.”
A “justice for Quawan” rally was held November 11. Ms. Charles said the family is demanding arrests and convictions and for the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office and the St. Mary Parish Police Department be looked into because of the number of unsolved murders.
“I would like to see justice for Quawan and justice for the surrounding families that have lost loved ones and their murders are unsolved in the St. Mary Parish and Iberia Parish areas,” she said.
The family has raised over $100,000 to get an independent autopsy done. They are hoping the autopsy results are in by the time they lay Quawan to rest. His funeral will take place Saturday, November 21, and there will be a demonstration after the funeral.