Exclusive: Quawan Charles' mother on the investigation of son's death

Roxanne Nelson believes he'd still be alive if the case was handled differently.

November 21, 2020, 9:52 AM

Quawan Charles, a Black teen who was found dead in a Louisiana sugar cane field earlier this month, will be laid to rest on Saturday. But his family is still seeking answers around the death of the 15-year-old, whom his mother described as a "good kid" and "loving child."

"I loved him and he loved me," Roxanne Nelson told Janai Norman in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America."

PHOTO: Roxanne Nelson, the mother of Quawan Charles, in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America."
Roxanne Nelson, the mother of Quawan Charles, in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America."
ABC News

Nelson called local police on Oct. 30, the day Charles went missing from his father's home in Baldwin, Louisiana. A video released by Baldwin police shows Charles getting into a car with a friend and the friend's mother that day, officials said. On Nov. 3, Charles' body was found in a sugar cane field about 20 miles away. The local coroner's office ruled Charles' likely cause of death as drowning.

"I cannot sleep at night, like I want to," Nelson said. "I'm constantly thinking about my son and trying to figure out exactly how he died."

Nelson believes police could have saved her son had they acted faster.

"They could've done more. They didn't. They didn't do what they were supposed to do," Nelson said. "Had they done what they were supposed to do, my son would be alive today. I feel because my son was Black, it didn't matter to them."

Baldwin police did not notify state police to issue an Amber Alert, nor did they report Charles' disappearance to local media. Charles was entered into the National Crime Information Center as a missing person or runaway, according to the Baldwin police report.

According to Chase Trichell, an attorney for the family, under a recently modified statute, any Louisiana law enforcement agency that becomes aware of a missing child must immediately notify the state police, which then determines whether it's an Amber Alert or media advisory case. The latter would have alerted neighboring parishes like Iberia, he said, where Charles' body was found four days after he was first reported missing.

"Which begs the question, had they followed state law, would Quawan be alive today?" Trichell told "Good Morning America."

Baldwin Assistant Police Chief Sam Wise told Lafayette ABC affiliate KATC that Charles's disappearance didn't appear to indicate he was in danger.

"We didn't see where it felt it met the criteria of an abduction or kidnapping," Wise told the station. "Because there were no eyewitnesses or no one to say that he had jumped in the vehicle or even beat him and took him into that vehicle. So it didn't meet the criteria to get in touch with state police."

"We did put him [in the] NCIC, we did comb the area," he told KATC.

Trichell said he has found cases of missing children from the past two years where the Baldwin Police Department or St. Mary Parish "followed a protocol whereby they disseminated the information to local media and those children in large part were found."

"In other cases where the missing people were different from him demographically, they did do everything they could, and those people were found," he said.

PHOTO: 15-year-old Quawan Charles was found dead days after he went missing.
15-year-old Quawan Charles was found dead days after he went missing.
Family of Quawan Charles

Trichell and Charles' family are also questioning why Baldwin police didn't ping his cellphone when he was first reported missing. Wise told KATC that the department does not have the technology to ping phones.

"We tried reaching out to the young man the entire weekend by calling and texting him and just trying to get a hold of him," he told the station.

Trichell has charged that the department could have contacted Charles' cell carrier to ping the cellphone for them. "The results would have come back probably within half an hour," he said.

Nelson reported her son missing to the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office on Nov. 3, who found him that day after pinging his cell phone, Trichell said.

The Baldwin Police Department was not able to provide "Good Morning America" with a comment by press time.

Iberia Parish sheriffs, who are handling the homicide investigation, said they have interviewed the people last seen with Charles and are actively tracking their whereabouts. They have also said they obtained video evidence that showed Charles alone near where his body was later found.

A final autopsy report and toxicology report are still pending, as the family awaits more answers.

"My baby is dead," Nelson said. "I will never, ever see my child again on this earth. And I love my child. And I'm missing him like crazy. It's tearing me up."

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