Azuree Charles, nine, was found on Wednesday in a wooded area near a home in New Kensington, Westmoreland County. On Thursday, the county district attorney confirmed that he had been killed.
“I can confirm again this was a homicide,” Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli told WTAE. “The child did die at the hands of another person.”
Ms Ziccarelli said that a person of interest had been identified in the case but gave no other details, citing an ongoing investigation.
Azuree’s father, Jean Charles, was arrested on Wednesday but reportedly on unrelated charges. According to a criminal complaint, Mr Charles is accused of punching one of his children in the eye in November 2021. The complaint does not identify the child.
At Thursday’s press conference, Ms Ziccarelli gave little information about the case. However when a reporter asked if the suspect was still at large, she said that the public need not worry.
“Based on everything we know at this time in the investigation – again, at this time – we do not believe there is a danger to the community at large,” she said.
Azuree’s community expressed their devastation over his death. On Wednesday, the local school district sent a letter to families offering grief counselors and other services.
“It is with a heavy heart that I share news that one of our elementary students passed away suddenly sometime this morning before school,” wrote Dr Chris Sefcheck, superintendent of the New Kensington-Arnold School District. “A tragedy like this is not easy to accept, while causing many levels of grief across our close-knit community.”
The child’s aunt, Madorne Lemaime, remembered Azuree as a sweet and respectful child.
“He was the most friendly kid,” Ms Lemaime told TribLIVE. “When they were at the grocery store, he would run around saying ‘hi’ and asking if people wanted to be friends.”
She added that Azuree had been recovering from health problems stemming from his premature birth, including several surgeries.
“He was just getting over all of his health conditions,” the grieving aunt said.
As the investigation continues, police have asked the public to come forward with any information they might have.
“This is a horrible tragedy for our community here in New Kensington and our county at large,” Ms Ziccarelli said. “If you can provide anything about the life or death of Azuree, please contact the New Kensington Police Department at 724-339-7533.”