The body of 15-year-old Quawan Charles was found in a muddy sugar cane field in Louisiana last November, his face disfigured, days after his family had reported him missing.
On Tuesday, Janet Irvin, 37, was arrested on charges of failure to report a missing child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor — the first such development in a case that has raised questions about the authorities’ response to reports of a missing child.
“I hope this arrest begins to help their family heal,” Sheriff Thomas S. Romero of Iberia Parish, referring to Quawan’s parents, said in a recorded message announcing the arrest. “And by no means is this case closed.”
The boy’s family has said the Baldwin Police Department did not take reports of his disappearance in October seriously and has raised questions about an autopsy report that said the boy had died by drowning. Sheriff Romero said in a written statement on Tuesday that the death was still being investigated and that there could be more arrests.
Ms. Irvin was arraigned in the 16th Judicial District Court, with bond set at $400,000, Sheriff Romero said in another video on his office’s Facebook page.
A court clerk said Ms. Irvin was being represented by public defenders, who could not be reached on Thursday. Katherine Breaux, a spokeswoman for the sheriff, said Ms. Irvin was still in custody as of Thursday afternoon.
In his statement, Sheriff Romero spoke of the series of events as the case was passed between jurisdictions. He said that the family reported Quawan missing to the Baldwin Police Department in St. Mary Parish on Oct. 30, and that the authorities in Iberia Parish were told about the teenager’s disappearance at 2:15 p.m. on Nov. 3 by the teenager’s mother, Roxanne Nelson.
Hours later, investigators from Iberia Parish found Quawan’s body using a signal from his cellphone, Sheriff Romero said. He said interviews, forensic evidence and the completed autopsy report led to Ms. Irvin’s arrest.
On Oct. 30, Ms. Nelson went to pick up her son, whose nickname was Bobby, from his father’s home for a haircut at 3 p.m., the family’s lawyer, Ronald Haley, said in an interview last year. But by 7 p.m., the boy could not be found, and the family called the Baldwin Police Department, which said he was probably at a football game or with friends, Mr. Haley said.
The Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Taking matters into their own hands, the family found out that Quawan had been picked up by Ms. Irvin and her son and taken to their home in Iberia Parish, Mr. Haley said. After Ms. Nelson contacted the authorities there, sheriff’s deputies discovered his body in a field near Loreauville, a rural community near Ms. Irvin’s home.
The Iberia Parish coroner said in a preliminary autopsy report in November that the cause of Quawan’s death was drowning, citing muddy water found in his airways and hyperinflated lungs. It said scratches and wounds on Quawan’s face were from “aquatic animal activity.”
Mr. Haley could not be reached on Thursday. His law office said in a statement last month that the family had ordered an independent autopsy report, which revealed the presence of THC, the intoxicating compound in marijuana, and ethanol in Quawan’s body.
“Our investigators were told by members of the Irvin family and their inner circle that Quawan was high on a hallucinogen,” the statement said. It “may have been the reason Quawan left the Irvin residence on foot and never returned.”
He said Quawan “could not have drowned in water ‘ankle’ deep without human intervention.”
“If he did not drown in that sugar cane field, then additional questions must be answered,” the statement said. “Where did he drown? Why was he moved and dumped in the sugar cane field? And most importantly, who was involved in his death and cover-up?”