Activists stood beside the family of Quawan "Bobby" Charles as the sun set Wednesday over the Iberia Parish Courthouse, which also is home to the law enforcement agency investigating the death of the Black 15-year-old.
Speaking to a crowd of about 100 protesters, the group demanded justice and accountability in a case that's gaining national attention because of a graphic photo shared by Bobby's family that's eerily similar to a 1955 image of a lynched Black teenager.
"It's funny that we have to come to the steps of the courthouse to find justice because justice for 400 years hasn't found us," said Jamal Taylor, a founding member of The Village and Stand Black, and who is also involved in the Lafayette branch of the NAACP. "It's funny today that we have to come here and demand that people be arrested for the brutal murder of a young man who was 15 years old. Folks, peace demands justice."
Their protest chants — ranging from "No justice; no peace!" to "Black power!" — fell on mostly deaf ears Wednesday because the courthouse and offices inside were closed for the Veterans Day holiday.
Event organizers said Wednesday's gathering was just the first step in ensuring Bobby's case isn't forgotten.
"I'm working," family spokesperson Celina Charles told the crowd. "I'm not only working for my cousin. I'm working for all of us."
Family members say Bobby left his father's Baldwin home without permission on the afternoon of Oct. 30 with a 17-year-old friend and his friend's mother. The family reported him missing later that night after unsuccessful attempts to reach him by phone.
Bobby's body would be discovered by officers on Nov. 3 in rural Iberia Parish.
A few days later, a graphic photo would begin circulating and prompting outrage online. The image, allegedly of Bobby, shows the mutilated face of a Black boy who has several open skin wounds and disfigurement so severe to his lips that several teeth are visible.
The family said they were told Bobby was found facedown in a creek near a sugarcane field, but they are seeking an independent autopsy because of the condition of his body.
A GoFundMe has raised more than $120,000 in four days for Bobby's family to cover costs of an independent autopsy and burial expenses. The online fundraiser depicts an image of Emmett Till, the Chicago 14-year-old who was lynched by White supremists in 1955 while visiting family in Mississippi, beside the alleged photo of Bobby.
The family has retained civil rights attorneys Ron Haley, Dedrick Moore and Chase Trichell. In a prepared statement, the lawyers asked for the preliminary findings of the coroner as to the cause of death and answers from the Baldwin Police Department as to why an Amber Alert was never issued in the days that the teen was missing.
"Due to the lack of transparency, collective indifference, and moral failings of law enforcement, Bobby’s family has been forced to undertake the serious financial cost and enormous emotional stress of arranging for an independent autopsy in order to get any answers about Bobby’s death," they said.
"The cost of this independent autopsy was not just financial for Bobby’s family — it has greatly worsened the grieving process by delaying when they can put their child to rest."
The ACLU of Louisiana on Wednesday demanded a full, independent investigation into Bobby's death.
"The disrespect and lack of transparency demonstrated by local officials in response to Bobby’s tragic and suspicious death is unacceptable," said Alanah Odoms Hebert, the organization's executive director, in a statement.
"We join the family in demanding a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bobby’s death. This family is grieving and deserves answers — not disrespect and stonewalling. We send our deepest condolences to Bobby’s family during this terrible time, and will continue to stand in solidarity with them and all those demanding justice."
Bobby's family has said their concerns were not taken seriously by the Baldwin Police Department the night he was reported missing, and their questions have gone largely unanswered in the days since his body was discovered by deputies with the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office. Activists have echoed the sentiment.
"We're not detectives. We don't work for a police department. We get that," said André Arceneaux, a Lafayette activist who started a GoFundMe for the Charles family. "But there has to be something more that could be said. The family just wants some responsibility taken by the police department. They were told he was probably at the football game. If a White 15-year-old had been missing even for two hours, there would have been an Amber Alert. The family wouldn't have been brushed off."
It is unclear if Bobby's case met Amber Alert criteria, which includes law enforcement confirming a child has been abducted and is in serious danger, according to Louisiana State Police. Protocol also requires that there is enough descriptive information available about the child, abductor and/or suspect's vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help the case.
"Everyone involved in the Louisiana Amber Alert Plan is extremely serious about each and every Amber Alert request that is submitted," the State Police website says. "Each one is reviewed thoroughly and, if an error is made, it will be on the side of the child's safety."
Lady Fontenette Brown, member of the Iberia Parish Council, told the protesters gathered Wednesday that she will personally hold law enforcement accountable in the case.
"I'm here on these steps to let you guys know, I give you my word," Brown said. "I will make sure that our people receive the justice that is due in this situation."
Spokespeople for the Baldwin Police Department, Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office and Iberia Parish Coroner's Office have declined to discuss specifics of the case.
On Tuesday, Katherine Breaux of the Sheriff's Office said multiple people had been interviewed and physical evidence is being processed in the case.
"The Sheriff's Office is doing everything possible," Breaux said. "We want to do a thorough investigation, and we are doing everything possible to do that."
Anyone with information concerning the case is urged to contact Detective Jarred Spurlock of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office at 337-369-3711.