Jean James Charles is the father of Azuree Charles, the 9-year-old boy from New Kensington, Pennsylvania, who was found dead near his home. Jean Charles was arrested on charges unrelated to the boy’s murder investigation.
Investigators said they had a person of interest in the murder, but did not name the person of interest or the suspect. Jean Charles, 40, is being held at Westmoreland County Prison, according to his prison record.
Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli identified the boy in a news conference Thursday, May 5, 2022. The boy was found dead on Wednesday, May 4, behind his home on Haser Drive near a shed, after he was reported missing the night before, officials said. Westmoreland Coroner Timothy Carson ruled the manner of death as manslaughter.
New Kensington is 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. The boy’s cause of death was not released. Azuree lived at East Ken Manor, a Westmoreland County Housing Authority complex, officials said.
Prosecutors are asking for the public’s help in their investigation. Ziccarelli said in an earlier statement Thursday investigators had set up a command post in the boy’s neighborhood. Detectives are asking anyone with information to contact the office and share surveillance footage of their homes. Investigators can be reached at 724-339-7533. A joint investigation was launched involving county detectives, New Kensington Police and neighboring police departments.
The neighbors remember Azuree as a gentle boy who was a friend to everyone. He was a cancer survivor and had three younger sisters, neighbors told WPXI. Azuree was an elementary school student in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
Here’s what you need to know:
Jean Charles was arrested May 5 on child molestation charges filed by the New Kensington Police Department in December. Charles from Brackenridge is considered homeless. According to his filing, he was denied bail in the case. Court documents say that “no combination of conditions will ensure the defendant’s appearance at his preliminary hearing,” citing homelessness as the reason.
Charles is charged in the case with aggravated assault and endangerment of child welfare in an alleged incident on November 16, 2021. Charles asked a public defender to represent him, his court documents said. His preliminary hearing is provisionally scheduled for May 19, 2022 at 10:30 a.m. before District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr.
The Westmoreland County Jail inmate list states that Charles was placed in the jail on May 5, 2022 and is being held in Unit B.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the child abuse case and reviewed by Trib Live, a case worker with the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau told a New Kensington Police Department detective that she saw the child victim with discoloration and bruising on the eye. The complaint did not name the victim but described him as a 9-year-old boy. According to family friends, Azuree Charles had younger sisters. The boy told police “my father punched me in the eye,” Trib Live reported, citing court documents.
“The boy said his father Charles punched him in the eye for making noise in his bedroom. The boy had a bruise under his eye in the morning and told his mother,” Trib Live reported.
Charles faced a previous charge of minor assault and a series of charges related to driving without a license and driving without insurance in 2019, his court filings show.
Charles pleaded guilty in 2020 to the 2019 charge of simple assault and was sentenced to a maximum of two years’ probation, according to court documents.
Members of the New Kensington Community, including Azuree’s young friends, gathered for a vigil Thursday night to honor the 9-year-old boy’s short life. Many of the elementary school students shared their memories of playing with Azuree outside with WTAE.
“He was the nicest person I’ve ever met. We like to ride bikes and would always play,” 9-year-old Azalynn Lookhart told WTAE.
Michele Arce, another community member, told WTAE that explaining death to young children is heartbreaking.
“When you have kids, it’s just heartbreak,” Arce told WTAE. “Then having to wait for our kids to get off the bus home and have to see all the warning tape and explain what happened is heartbreaking.”
Brittany Bush, who organized the event, told WTAE that she wants to see justice done. Bush told the news agency she organized the event because the community and their children needed to come together to grieve so they could process the tragedy.
“We just had to do this for these kids out here. It’s sad, at a moment like this, everyone needs to come together,” Bush told the news channel. “I want justice for him, whoever did this I hope they get whatever comes to them.”
Osie Taylor, a 70-year-old neighbor, found the boy’s body after he failed to show up at the bus stop, according to the WPXI. The body was found under a lounge chair in a wooded area near Azuree’s home.
“I knew something was wrong because my lawn chair was out of place,” Taylor told the Tribune-Review.
Taylor told the outlet that when the boy was reported missing Tuesday night, he offered to help police locate him because he knew the areas where the neighborhood kids often played. The boy was found clothed, Taylor told the Tribune-Review, but he was not wearing shoes or socks.
Ziccarelli gave some details about the case in a press conference. She said investigators were dispatched at 6:18 a.m. Wednesday. She added that investigators are determined to declare the case fair.
“For our community at large, keep your kids close,” she said. “They are our most precious gifts. We will not rest until we determine what or who caused this child’s death.”
Neighbors told local news outlets that Azuree was a childhood cancer survivor. WPXI reported last year that Azuree “beats cancer”. Neighbor Osie Taylor told Trib Live he didn’t know the details of the boy’s illness but did know he had been ill and had to endure a lot of surgeries.
KDKA reported that Azuree “enjoyed a second chance at life.”
“He just rides his bike and plays with his sister and it’s incredible that something like this could happen to him. It has to stop whatever’s going on,” Taylor told KDKA.
Azuree’s death has left his neighbors in grief and shock, they told local news outlets. Neighbor Gina Pace told WPXI she often saw the boy play outside.
“You never thought he was playing so happily out here, you never knew that little boy was lying up there fighting for his life to come back so full of life,” Pace told WPXI.
Pace told Trib Live Azuree is handsome and smart.
“This is a serious tragedy and it hits our homeland,” Pace told the newspaper. “We know this boy. He was in a very good mood. He was a handsome, smart little fellow.”