Quawan "Bobby" Charles, now the subject of a homicide investigation and "likely" victim of drowning, disappeared on Oct. 30

By Jeff Truesdell and Wendy Grossman Kantor
December 17, 2020 08:59 AM
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Quawan "Bobby" Charles
Quawan "Bobby" Charles

Quawan "Bobby" Charles was not a kid whose parents knew him to go anywhere without telling someone.

Quiet and shy, he enjoyed outdoor activities like fishing and four-wheeling in his native Louisiana. But he also lavished affection on a pit bull he'd named My Baby, along with the sheep, goats and horses on his father, Kenneth Jacko's, property in small-town Baldwin.

"He was loving," his cousin Celina Charles tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "He was friendly and genuine, always smiling."

So when he went missing from his father's home on the afternoon of Oct. 30, Jacko and his ex-wife, Quawan's mom Roxanne Nelson, both felt it was out of character for the 15-year-old.

Hours passed. About 8 p.m., Nelson reported the teen's disappearance to police.

Four days later he was found dead, his body face-down in shallow water in a sugar cane field near Loreauville, about 25 miles from his father's home.

For more about the disappearance and suspected murder of Quawan "Bobby" Charles, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

Baldwin police say they alerted the local St. Mary Parish Sheriff's Office and entered the report in a national database. But Quawan's family members say they had to become their own detectives, trying to trace the teen's whereabouts on their own by contacting his friends and asking neighbors when they'd last seen him.

Quawan Charles funeral
Pallbearers carry Quawan Charles' casket
| Credit: Brad Bowie/Acadiana Advocate

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Finally, on Nov. 2, a relative says, Nelson learned from one of her son's acquaintances that Quawan had been at the home of a 17-year-old friend and the friend's mother, who'd picked him up in their car from his father's house.

Nelson fed the tip to Baldwin police. They interviewed the friend's mom and confirmed the details including, according to the friend's mom, that Quawan had later left the friend's house on his own.

But since that sighting was in neighboring Iberia Parish, Nelson was told she'd have to report Quawan missing there as well. When she did, she pleaded with the local Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office to ping her son's missing cell phone -- a step Baldwin's Assistant Chief of Police Sam Wise later said his department did not have the technology to do.

After doing so, Iberia Parish deputies were able to narrow a search to where Quawan's body was found.

The delayed discovery has the family, their attorneys and local activists questioning whether valuable time was lost, and why the media wasn't alerted before Quawan's body was recovered. As they've put a spotlight on law enforcement's actions, Quawan's death has been mourned nationwide.

Quawan "Bobby" Charles
Quawan Charles is remembered at a Nov. 13 protest in New York
| Credit: Andrew H Walker/Shutterstock

After the coroner ruled Quawan died from "likely drowning" in water that his family's attorneys say was no more than a foot or two deep, Iberia Sheriff Tommy Romero says his office is treating the investigation as a homicide.

"Had they responded like a 15-year-old white girl was lost," says Jamal Taylor, co-founder of the nonprofit minority rights advocacy group Stand Black tells PEOPLE, "it's my thought that Quawan would have been found alive."

Quawan's case will be featured on Friday's episode of PEOPLE (the TV Show!).

PEOPLE (the TV Show!) is a half-hour daily TV show inspired by the brand's unique combination of the most popular celebrity and inspirational human-interest stories, including entertainment news, exclusive interviews, feature stories, beauty and style, true crime and more. The show airs Monday-Friday in all 12 Meredith markets, including Atlanta, Phoenix, St. Louis, Portland, Nashville, Kansas City, Hartford-New Haven, Greenville-Spartanburg, Las Vegas, Mobile-Pensacola, Flint-Saginaw and Springfield-Holyoke. The show is hosted by Kay Adams and Lawrence K. Jackson with correspondents Jeremy Parsons and Sandra Vergara. You can also stream the show daily at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on People.com, PeopleTV app (OTT) and PEOPLE’s FacebookTwitter and YouTube accounts.