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The family of a Louisiana teenager who vanished late last month say they are convinced local and county authorities didn’t take his disappearance seriously because of racial prejudice.
Quawan Charles, 15, was found dead in a cane field on Nov. 3, near the small community of Loreauville, county authorities said. Coroners have since confirmed the teen drowned. His death is being investigated as a homicide; however, no arrests have been made in the case.
Family members of the dead teenager, suspicious of law enforcement’s involvement since the investigation’s onset, are now accusing authorities of muddling the investigation for racial reasons.
"A child was taken from, or last taken from, his parents' home without permission, and they report it to the police, and that's somehow not priority No. 1," Ron Haley, an attorney for the Charles family, told PEOPLE.com. "That's mind-boggling to me."
Charles was believed to have initially vanished on Oct. 30 from his father’s home in Baldwin, Louisiana, about 20 miles away from where his body was found, according to Baton Rouge newspaper the Advocate. Local police first suggested Charles was merely at a football game or hanging out with friends, The New York Times reported. No Amber Alert was issued.
The family later learned Charles was seen by a third-party leaving his father’s home with a 17-year-old white friend and his mother, later identified as Gavin and Janet Irvin. Gavin later told investigators the two boys had spent the afternoon together but Charles had left on his own.
Charles' father, Kenneth Jacko, has maintained the Irvins didn’t have permission to take the 15-year-old, the Washington Post reported.
“I want the lady who came to get my son without my permission, his dad’s permission, to be held accountable,” Charles’ mother, Roxanne Nelson, said, according to the outlet. “She took them to her house. He was alive and well when he was here, and now he is dead.”
County authorities were unable to confirm if the Irvins were persons of interest in the case.
The boy’s family also doubt Charles drowned, citing his mangled corpse.
“His face says different,” Celina Charles, the family’s spokesperson and a relative, told the Washington Post, referring to a graphic photo of the teen’s body relatives shared on GoFundMe. The disturbing images show significant facial trauma, including cuts and gashes across Charles’ face.
Celina labeled investigators’ narrative purporting the 15-year-old drowned “bogus,” the newspaper reported.
“The people needed to see what he was looking like,” she added.
In the wake of Charles’ death, the family has raised nearly $265,000, a portion of which is aimed at funding an independent autopsy.
Meanwhile, in a preliminary autopsy report, released on Friday, the Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office ruled out any evidence of “pre-death injury” to Charles. Muddy water found in Charles’ airways, sinuses, and lungs, which had become “hyper inflated,” all point to a drowning, they said.
“At this time there is no evidence of ante mortem trauma to Quawan ‘Bobby’ Charles,” Dr. Carl M. Ditch wrote in the autopsy’s preliminary findings report, obtained by Oxygen.com.
Any damage caused to Charles’ body was likely inflicted by an “aquatic animal” or during the “autopsy procedure,” the report added. The final autopsy report hasn’t been released, pending toxicology and police investigation.
The Charles family confirmed it is commissioning an independent autopsy but have not yet received the results, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office pushed back on scrutiny regarding the handling of the investigation.
“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,” Sheriff Tommy Romero said in a statement on Nov. 14. “Any loss of life is a tragedy and that is especially true when it is a young person. Although we believe it is important not to compromise any part of our investigation, we are prepared to release some details so that the public can be assured we are not resting in our effort to find the truth.”
The statement added detectives were “actively and aggressively gathering evidence.”
On Friday, county authorities also announced they had tracked down video footage of Charles “near” the area where his body was recovered, shortly before his death. An eyewitness also corroborated the sighting of Charles. However, he appeared to be alone.
“Video evidence indicates no other individuals present with Quawan ‘Bobby’ Charles or anyone else present for some time before, or after, he is seen on the recording,” Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
“Everybody’s life matters, but Quawan’s life was taken away recklessly and it was sad, and we’re going to get justice,” Celina said at one of the rallies, according to KLFY-TV.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, however, denied any allegations of racial bias at play in the case.
“Definitely, I deny them,” Katherine Breaux, public affairs director for the Ibiah Parish Sheriff’s Office, told Oxygen.com.
Breaux, who declined to comment further, described the accusations as “disheartening.”
Baldwin Police didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on Monday.
Anybody with information related to the teen’s disappearance and death is urged to contact Detective Jarred Spurlock of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Investigation at 337-369-3711.
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