Jean Charles Arrested in Murder of 9-Year-Old Son, Azuree: 5 Fast Facts
Jean Charles of Brackenridge, Pennsylvania has now been arrested and charged with homicide in the death of his 9-year-old son, Azuree Charles. Azuree Charles was found dead May 5, 2022, police said. Jean Charles was arrested September 21, 2022, and denied bail in the case. Azuree’s mom, Luella Elien, was also charged in a case related to a November 2021 incident, according to court records.
Charles is charged with criminal homicide, first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse, unlawful restraint of a minor by a parent, strangulation, concealing the death of a child and tampering with physical evidence, according to the docket sheet filed in his case. Charles, 40, was arrested by the New Kensington Police Department in Westmoreland County and arraigned on his charges before Magisterial District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr., who denied bail in his case due to the homicide charge, court documents show. He is lodged in Westmoreland County Jail.
Elien, 29, of New Kensington, was charged with aggravated assault of a person less than 18, endangering the welfare of children and hindering apprehension or prosecution in an alleged incident on November 16, 2021, months before the boy’s death, according to court records. Her bail is set at $50,000.
An attorney is not listed for Charles, but court documents show he has not requested a public defender. His preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 12, 2022.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Charles Was Previously Arrested on Charges Unrelated to the Case While Police Continued Their Investigation
Jean Charles was arrested May 5 on misdemeanor child abuse charges filed in December by the New Kensington Police Department, according to his docket sheet. Court documents say “no combination of conditions will assure defendant’s appearance at his preliminary hearing,” listing homelessness as a reason.
Charles is charged in that case with simple assault and endangering the welfare of children for an alleged incident November 16, 2021. Charles requested a public defender to represent him, his court documents say.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the child abuse case and reviewed by Trib Live, a Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau case worker told a New Kensington Police Department detective that she had seen the child victim with discoloration and bruising to his eye. The complaint did not name the victim, but described him as a 9-year-old boy. Azuree Charles had younger sisters, according to friends of the family. The boy told police “my dad punched me in the eye,” Trib Live reported, citing court documents.
“The boy said his father, Charles, punched him in the eye because he was making noise in his bedroom. The boy had a bruise under his eye in the morning, and told his mother,” Trib Live reported.
2. Jean Charles Was Sentenced to Probation in a Previous Simple Assault Case Filed in 2019
Remembering 9y/o Azuree Charles a day after his body was found not far from his home in East Ken Manor in New Ken. Teacher Kara Fenkel,”He lit up the room wherever he was.He always had a smile on his face. He had this cute little laugh that everybody loved.” @KDKA pic.twitter.com/MshpayVbh1
— Jennifer Borrasso (@JenBorrasso) May 6, 2022
Charles faced a previous misdemeanor simple assault charge in 2019, and has faced a series of charges related to driving without a license and driving without insurance, according to his court records.
Charles pleaded guilty to the 2019 simple assault charge in 2020 and was sentenced to serve a maximum of two years probation, according to court documents.
The Post-Gazette reported that police found Jean Charles’ DNA on a shovel found in a garbage can, and on clothes that matched the description of clothing seen on surveillance footage, which depicted a man holding a shovel.
3. The New Kensington Community Held a Vigil for Azuree, Whose Body Was Found After He Did Not Show Up at the Bus Stop in May
Members of the New Kensington community, including the young friends of Azuree, gathered for a vigil to honor the short life of the 9-year-old boy shortly after his body was found. Many of the elementary school students told WTAE about their memories of playing with Azuree outside.
“He was the nicest person I ever met. We like to ride our bikes and we would always play,” 9-year-old Azalynn Lookhart told WTAE.
Michele Arce, another community member, told WTAE that explaining the death to young children was heart wrenching.
“When you have kids, it’s just heartbreak,” Arce told WTAE. “Then having to wait for our kids to come home from the bus and see all the caution tape and having to explain what happened, it’s a stab in the heart.”
Such a heartbreaking thing to watch. A vigil for 9yo Azuree Charles, who was found dead Wednesday morning. His neighborhood/community held this for him…lots of kids here. DA says his death was ruled a homicide. More tonight on @WTAE pic.twitter.com/LFdP7Eqxzy
— Tori Yorgey (@toriyorgeywtae) May 6, 2022
Brittany Bush, who organized the event, told WTAE that she wants to see justice served. Bush told the news outlet she organized the event because the community and its children needed to come together to grieve so they could process the tragedy.
“We just needed to do this for these kids out here. It’s sad, everybody needs to come together at a moment like this,” Bush told the news station. “I want justice for him, whoever did this, I hope they get everything coming to them.”
Osie Taylor, a 70-year-old neighbor, found the body of the boy after he did not show up at the bus stop, according to WPXI. The body was found under a lawn chair in a wooded area close to Azuree’s home.
“I knew something wasn’t right because my lawn chair was out of place,” Taylor told the Tribune-Review.
Taylor told the outlet that when the boy was reported missing, he offered to help police look for him because he knew the areas where the neighborhood kids often played.
Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli said in a press conference at the time of the murder that investigators are determined to bring justice to the case.
“To our community at large, hold your children close,” she said. “They are our most precious gifts. We will not rest until we determine what or who caused this child’s death.”
4. Azuree Was a Pediatric Cancer Survivor Who Recovered One Year Before the Murder
Neighbors told local news outlets that Azuree was a pediatric cancer survivor. WPXI reported Azuree “beat cancer” last year. Neighbor Osie Taylor told Trib Live he did not know details of the boy’s sickness, but knew that he had been sick and had endured many operations.
KDKA reported Azuree had been “enjoying a second chance at life.”
“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,” Taylor told KDKA.
HAPPENING NOW: Investigators are going from home to home in East Ken Manor, trying to determine what happened to a nine-year-old boy found dead behind a home on Haser Drive Wednesday morning in New Kensington. @KDKA pic.twitter.com/48fu5wDFTx
— Amy Wadas (@AmyWadas) May 5, 2022
The death of Azuree left his neighbors mourning and shaken, they told local news outlets. Neighbor Gina Pace told WPXI she often saw the boy outside playing.
“You would’ve never thought that him out here playing so jovial, you would’ve never knew that little boy was laying up there fighting for his life, for him to come back so full of life,” Pace told WPXI.
Pace told Trib Live Azuree was handsome and smart.
“This is a severe tragedy, and it hits close to home,” Pace told the newspaper. “We know that boy. He had a very good disposition. He was a handsome, smart little guy.”
Brittney Sneed, another neighbor and a mother of three, told Trib Live she was worried for the safety of her children before the arrest.
“We don’t know what happened,” she told the newspaper at the time. “We have kids; I don’t know what to think.”
She told the newspaper Azuree would sometimes play with her children.
“I’m worried. I think we should all be worried,” she told the newspaper. “He’s a child, and the way he was found, it was just scary.”
5. Azuree Had 3 Younger Sisters & Was Raised By His Mom
Law enforcement has set up a “command post” in the neighborhood where a 9-year-old boy was found dead. They’re asking community members to cooperate with officers. https://t.co/JPXR6LZ5Fe
— KDKA (@KDKA) May 5, 2022
Azuree was the oldest in a family of four children, Taylor told Trib Live. He had four younger sisters, and they were being raised by their mom in the housing complex, Taylor told the newspaper.
“He was a very gentle, nice kid,” Taylor told the newspaper. “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.”
Taylor told Trib Live he has lived in East Ken Manor for 10 years and knows Azuree’s mom. He said the mom was often spending time with her children, and seemed to be an attentive mother.
“She was always outside with the kids,” Taylor told Trib Live. “She was one of the few that took care of their kids.”
Taylor said he felt close to the boy as though he were his own relative.
“It just breaks my heart. It feels like it happened to me,” Taylor told Trib Live. “The kid was like one of my kids or one of my grandkids.”
New Kensington-Arnold School District Dr. Chris Sefcheck sent out a letter to families in the school district announcing the death of the boy in May, without releasing his name, and encouraging parents and guardians to keep an eye on the mental health of their children.
“It is with heavy heart that I share news that one of our elementary students passed away suddenly sometime this morning before school,” the letter said. “A tragedy like this is not easy to accept, while causing many levels of grief across our close-knit community.”
The letter said that grief counselors were being made available to students and faculty in the district at the time.
“If your student talks with you about being grief stricken over losing a friend or classmate, please let them know that the schools are doing everything they can to help and to please speak with their teacher when they get to school tomorrow,” the letter said. “Please keep the family and our community in your thoughts and reflections through this challenging time.”