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Family of Black teen found dead in sugar cane field says police didn't take his disappearance seriously

Questions in missing Louisiana teen's death
Louisiana family asks if race played a role in the handling of missing boy's death investigation 03:56

The family of a Black teenager who was found dead days after he was reported missing believes police did not take his disappearance seriously because of his race. Detectives in Louisiana are now investigating Quawan "Bobby" Charles' death as a homicide. 

There was no Amber Alert after he was reported missing, but police claim "all procedures were followed."

"People are angry. People are upset," Quawan Charles' cousin Celina Charles told "CBS This Morning" national correspondent Jericka Duncan.

Celina said her family wants answers in the 15-year-old's death and the investigation that followed.

The Charles family said Quawan was picked up on October 30 by a woman named Janet Irvin and her 17-year-old son. They allegedly picked him up outside his father's house in Baldwin, Louisiana, but Quawan's parents said they don't know the woman or her son and never consented to him leaving with them.

When Quawan's family reported him missing that night, they say police brushed off their concerns, speculating he was at a football game.

Celina said she believes race played a role in how the case has been investigated.

"Most definitely, because they didn't notify the media. They didn't notify the community," she said. 

On November 2, the 15-year-old's body was found in a sugar cane field in Loreauville, 30 minutes from his home.

The coroner's office says the teen likely drowned and had no injuries before his death. They also ruled the wounds on his face happened after his death and were likely caused by aquatic animals.

But according to the family's attorneys, the water in the sugar cane fields is very shallow.

"Those bodies of water barely go up to your knees. And so this isn't that Quawan tried to go for a swim," said Ronald Haley, one of the attorneys representing Quawan's family.

The attorneys said Irvin and her son have since packed up and left their home. Investigators said they have questioned the individuals believed to have been with Quawan before he disappeared and "are actively tracking their whereabouts."

Local activist Jamal Taylor helped the family raise over $250,000 in a GoFundMe campaign for the family to hire its own investigators and get a second autopsy.

"I was particularly disappointed by the lack of response from police in the matter. And so I immediately said, we need to do something about this," Taylor said.

"It shouldn't be incumbent upon the family to solve the crime of Quawan Charles," said Chase Trichell, another attorney representing the Charles family.

Many people, particularly Charles' family members, are pointing out the similarities between Quawan's injuries and Emmett Till's. In 1955 in Mississippi, two White men murdered 14-year-old Till for allegedly whistling at a White woman. His casket was left open at his mother's request so the world could see the brutality.

The Charles family released a photo of Quawan showing what he looked like when he was found. CBS News has opted not to show the image due to the graphic nature and the ongoing investigation.

"We felt like the world needed to see," Celina said about the photo.

The family is also waiting for full results of an independent autopsy.

The sheriff's office said in a statement that the homicide investigation continues and said they do have video of Quawan during his disappearance, but they are not yet releasing it to the public. 

CBS News has attempted to reach out to Janet Irvin and has not received a response.

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