Last week, as protesters gathered in Ferguson, Mo., police discovered a man’s body in a white Pontiac parked not far from where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a police officer in August.
The man was 20-year-old Deandre Joshua. His body — found the morning after a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson — had been burned.
But did his death have any connection to the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown or the unrest that followed in this St. Louis suburb?
The timing and brutal nature of Joshua’s death — his partially burned body was found with a bullet in the head — spurred speculation that it might be connected to protests that occurred after St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s announcement of the grand jury’s decision on Nov. 24. On Internet message boards, some suggested that Joshua was a grand jury witness and wondered whether his death was in retaliation.
After all, just up the street, more than 60 shell casings were found in the parking lot of a BBQ restaurant. Around the corner, someone spray-painted the phrase “snitches get stitches” on the side of a building.
According to family members, friends and law-enforcement officials, however, Joshua was nowhere near Canfield Drive when Brown was killed during a confrontation with Wilson on Aug. 9 and couldn’t have witnessed the shooting. And McCulloch’s office — which remained tight-lipped about the Wilson investigation — this week confirmed that Joshua didn’t offer testimony during the proceedings.
“He was not a witness,” said Ed Magee, a spokesman for the county prosecutor.
Joshua grew up not far from Ferguson, one of four children in his family. He had an identical twin and a job at a local Walmart. He had recently started dating a woman who lived near where his body was found.
“He loved being with family,” said Diamonique James, Joshua’s cousin, who saw him Nov. 23 in Ferguson. “He was the life of the party.”
Family members told the New York Times that Joshua had considered joining the military or applying to community college but had decided to stick with his gig at Walmart, working the night shift. Joshua was also a close friend of Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown on the day of the shooting.
“It’s tragic. He was a good kid,” Johnson said on MSNBC after his death. “It’s a tragedy what happened to him.”
His relationship with Johnson, some close to his family noted, underscore how off-base the rumors about Joshua were. What are the chances that Johnson’s childhood friend, who didn’t live nearby, would happen to be on that street on that day? And if he was, why didn’t Johnson say anything to his attorneys or investigators about it?
“Dorian has known this guy since kindergarten,” said Adolphus Pruitt, a local NAACP president who helped Johnson locate witnesses after the Brown shooting. “If this guy had been around and saw anything, Dorian would have told us.”
Some have floated theories about Joshua’s death that aren’t connected to the Brown shooting. (The investigation remains active and ongoing.) Perhaps it was a robbery attempt gone awry, or a set-up. After the body was discovered, one Ferguson resident told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had spotted four armed men the night prior discussing killing someone.
“I knew it was going to be true,” Richard Taylor told the local paper last week. “When I got up this morning, I saw this.”