“I can confirm that this is a homicide and the child did die at the hands of another person,” Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli said in a press conference.
Officials in Pennsylvania say they have a person of interest after a 9-year-old boy was found dead under a lawn chair.
Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli confirmed the identity of Azuree Charles, who had been reported missing, in a press conference on Thursday, captured by WTAE.
More than 30 officers from the New Kensington Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police and other surrounding areas were briefed and stepped in to help find the missing child, who Ziccarelli said died of homicide.
“This is a horrible tragedy for our community here at New Kensington and our county at large,” Ziccarelli told reporters. She asked the public for help in providing information on Azuree, urging those with details to call the New Kensington Police Department at 724-339-7533.
“To our community at large, hold your children near, they are our most precious gifts. We will not rest until we determine what or who caused this child’s death,” Ziccarelli said.
We do have a person of interest,” she added. “I can’t comment any further at this time as this is an ongoing investigation.”
She later continued, “I can confirm that this is a homicide and the child did die at the hands of another person. Based on everything we know at this time in the investigation, we do not believe there is a danger to the community-at-large.”
Ziccarelli said she could not speak to how Azuree’s mother is coping with the loss, but confirmed that the child has three younger siblings.
No arrests have been made in Azuree’s death, however, New Kensington police took his father Jean Charles into custody for an unrelated warrant for a simple assault and child endangerment case after allegedly punching his son in the eye and leaving a bruise in November, per WPXI. It is unclear if the son was Azuree.
Azuree’s neighbors said, per CBS News, that the child had just beat pediatric cancer. Neighbor Osie Taylor, who found Azuree’s body, told the outlet, “All he does is ride his bike and play with his sister and for something like this to happen to him, it’s unbelievable. It’s got to stop, whatever is going on.”
Sharing more of the tragic discovery, Taylor, 70, told TribLive that police were knocking on doors looking for the missing child. Taylor volunteered to help as he was familiar with the areas where neighborhood kids played. He later discovered Azuree’s body under a lawn chair in a wooded area behind his home.
“I knew something wasn’t right because my lawn chair was out of place,” Taylor said to TribLive, adding: “He was a very gentle, nice kid. He laughed all the time and played with his sisters all the time. He was a very, very nice kid, always well mannered. He got along well with everybody.”
Of Azuree’s mother, Taylor continued, “She was always outside with the kids. She was one of the few that took care of their kids. It just breaks my heart. It feels like it happened to me. The kid was like one of my kids or one of my grandkids.”
Azuree’s aunt Madorne Lemaime, whose sister is Azuree’s mother Luella Elien, also told TribLive that she hasn’t been able to reach Luella.
She said Azuree has suffered health issues after being born prematurely. He had multiple operations, including having a tracheostomy tube removed that improved his breathing and speaking, she said, per the news outlet.
“He was just getting over all of his health conditions,” she told TribLive. “He was the most friendly kid. When they were at the grocery store, he would run around saying ‘hi’ and asking if people wanted to be friends.