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A Black man was ‘decapitated’ after saying he was being chased by white men. Why do police say no foul play?

Rasheem Carter told his mother he feared for his life the day he was last seen alive (Family)
Rasheem Carter told his mother he feared for his life the day he was last seen alive (Family)

One day in October, Rasheem Carter sent a chilling final text message to his mother.

The Black 25-year-old told her he was being chased by a group of white men in pickup trucks while they hurled racist abuse at him.

She never heard from him again.

One month later, Carter’s remains were discovered in a wooded area – his head completely severed from his body, according to the family.

So why are Mississippi authorities saying that there are “no signs” of foul play?

Warning: Graphic images below

Here’s what we know so far about the case:

Disappearance

It was 1 October when Carter sent an ominous text message to his mother.

At the time, Carter, a welder who lived in Fayette, Mississippi, had gotten a short-term job as a contractor around 100 miles away in Taylorsville.

Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox told The Independent in an interview that Carter was one of a crew of temporary workers who had come into the area for a job at a nearby plant.

The group was staying at a hotel in Laurel County and travelling around 20 miles each day to the job in Smith County. Many of the workers were from out of state, he said.

For Carter, the job was a way to save money to try to get his seafood restaurant back up and running after it was shuttered during the Covid-19 pandemic, his mother Tiffany Carter said.

But – on 1 October – Carter reached out to his mother telling her in a detailed text message that he was having issues with his coworkers and feared for his life, Ms Carter said at a press conference on 13 March.

“Me and the owner of this company are not seeing eye to eye,” the message read.

“If anything happens to me [he] is responsible for it… he got these guys wanting to kill me.”

Rasheem Carter with his mother at his graduation (Family handout)
Rasheem Carter with his mother at his graduation (Family handout)

Carter gave his mother the name of the individual he was fearful of and told her that he was being chased by a group of white men in three trucks.

“My son told me that it was three truckloads of white guys trying to kill him. And at the time that he told me, as a mother, you know, I had to think fast,” she said.

She said she urged him to go straight to a police station “because I felt in my heart they would serve and protect like they are obligated to do”.

Carter did visit the Taylorsville Police Department on two separate occasions prior to his disappearance, reported ABC News.

It is not clear when exactly he visited the police department or what those visits were about as Taylorsville Police Department has not responded to The Independent’s request for comment.

What we do know is that, after that day, Carter’s family never heard from him again.

He was reported missing by his mother the next day on 2 October.

Chilling final footage

At 4.32pm on 2 October – one day after he last communicated with his family and the same day a missing persons report was filed – Carter was captured on deer trail camera footage in the wooded area where his remains were later found.

In the footage – a still of which was shown to Carter’s family and shared with Business Insider – the 25-year-old is seen shirtless in the woods south of Taylorsville.

His upper body appears to be covered in bruises and marks and he is holding what looks like a large branch.

Ms Carter told Insider that it shows her son was “running for his life”.

“You could see there are bruises on him,” she said.

“When I see that picture, I know my son was somewhere struggling, somewhere running for his life... I really believe he was chased there.”

She added: “The picture shows something is not right. Something transpired.”

Carter’s cousin Tarsha Clark said she believes it shows Carter – who the family said was healthy and had no prior medical issues – was “hiding” from potential attackers.

Rasheem Carter is seen in an image from a Mississippi trail camera on the day he went missing (Rasheem Carter family)
Rasheem Carter is seen in an image from a Mississippi trail camera on the day he went missing (Rasheem Carter family)

“I think it was a struggle and he was trying to protect himself. He was hiding,” she said.

Smith County Sheriff Joel Houston, whose department is leading the investigation into Carter’s death, told the outlet that no other individuals were picked up by the trail camera.

“He’s the only one on the camera. It doesn’t show anybody else present,” he said.

“At this point, we’re just trying to rule out any possibility of anybody being present in his last time alive. The evidence we have right now is not showing anybody with him.”

Sheriff Houston also claimed that the “bruises” on Carter’s body could actually be “shadows”.

Remains found

Laurel Police Chief Cox told The Independent that it was his department which originally opened and led the missing persons investigation.

He confirmed that Carter’s mother had come to the police department “upset” on 2 October and had relayed to the officers the disturbing messages she had received from her son.

Chief Cox said that what Carter’s mother told officers “was very concerning”.

The missing persons report was filed and put out to the local and state media.

“We opened a missing persons report to see if we could come to a good resolution not the bad resolution that it did,” he said.

“It’s kind of unusual... most of our adult mssing persons show back up after a few days.”

Chief Cox said that his officers spoke to “one or two” of Carter’s coworkers as part of the investigation but revealed that the unnamed individuals had already left the state.

“Our investigators talked to a couple of the coworkers over the telephone but they were already back out of state at that time so I don’t think any of them were like one-on-one interviews,” he said.

When asked if the interviews brought up anything of interest in the case, the police chief said he couldn’t comment.

A couple of weeks after the missing persons investigation was opened, the case – and all the information – was then handed over from Laurel PD to Smith County Sheriff’s Department.

Chief Cox said that Carter’s phone records and surveillance footage had placed his last known whereabouts in the jurisdiction of the other county.

The footage is said to show Carter outside a convenience store in Taylorsville.

Meanwhile, Carter’s friends and family spent an entire month conducting searches to try to track down the missing Black man.

Images of Rasheem Carter’s skull are shown at a press conference (ABC24)
Images of Rasheem Carter’s skull are shown at a press conference (ABC24)

Then on 2 November – exactly one month after he was last seen alive and after the case was passed to Smith County – his skeletal remains were discovered in a wooded area about 300 yards from where he was captured by the trail camera.

In a statement announcing the discovery, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said that it did not believe there was any signs of foul play in his death.

“At this time, we have no reason to believe foul play was involved, but the case is still under investigation,” the department said.

It is not clear what prompted law enforcement to reach that conclusion – or what even led to the discovery of Carter’s remains.

His remains were then transported to the state’s crime lab for DNA confirmation.

The investigation

While saying there was no indication of foul play, investigators asked the public to come forward with any tips about the case.

The MBI and FBI was also assisting Smith County Sheriff’s Office in the initial investigation.

Now, more than four months after the 25-year-old’s remains were found, his devastated family is no closer to getting answers as to what happened.

No charges have ever been brought and his cause of death is unknown.

A spokesperson for the MBI told The Independent on Wednesday that a cause of death has still not been determined due to the condition of Carter’s remains.

“Based solely upon the condition of the remains, there was no means by which a cause of death could be reasonably determined by the Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office,” the spokesperson said.

“The Mississippi Department of Public Safety can offer no further comment or details pertaining to the death and disappearance of Mr Carter due to it being a pending investigation by the Smith County Sheriff’s Department.”

Family demand answers

On Monday, Carter’s grieving family called for the Justice Department to step in and take over the investigation as they described his death as a “murder” and “lynching”.

In a press conference, the family’s attorney – prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump – revealed the results of an independent autopsy into his remains.

Showing graphic images of the Black man’s bones, he said that Carter was decapitated and his remains scattered around the area.

“His head was severed from his body. His vertebrae, his spinal chord was in another spot they discovered away from his severed head,” he said.

He added: “This was not a natural death. This represents a young man who was killed.”

The independent autopsy also revealed that Carter’s bottom and top front teeth were missing, suggesting he was assaulted prior to his death.

Rasheem Carter’s mother Tiffany Carter and attorney Ben Crump speak at press conference (ABC24)
Rasheem Carter’s mother Tiffany Carter and attorney Ben Crump speak at press conference (ABC24)

“There is nothing natural about this. It screams out for justice. What we have is a Mississippi lynching,” he said.

Mr Crump also said that someone had tried to use Carter’s credit card at a time when he was now known to have already died.

“This was a nefarious act. This was an evil act,” he said.

“Somebody murdered Rasheem Carter, and we cannot let them get away with this.”

Mr Crump and Carter’s family are urging the DOJ to take over the investigation as a civil rights case following what they say is a months-long stonewalling by local authorities.

The Independent has reached out to all of the law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation but has had no response from the Smith County Sheriff’s Department or Taylorsville Police Department.

Smith County Sheriff Joel Houston told Insider that there is no evidence to prove that Carter was murdered but insisted that “everything is still on the table”.

“There is nothing being covered up. There is nothing being swept under the rug,” he said. “There’s nothing to hide.”

He also suggested that animals could have been responsible for Carter’s body parts being in separate locations.

A spokesperson for FBI Jackson said that “the FBI routinely offers assistance to our law enforcement partners, to provide additional manpower and specialized resources, if they become necessary”.

Laurel Police Chief Cox said that his departmemt is not involved in the investigation into Carter’s death – and has not been involved since handing over the missing person’s case.

However, he said that it’s “unusual” to see a missing persons cases end the way it has and called Carter’s message about him being chased “concerning”.

“If what’s been said [happened] it would be really unsual... it’s unusual to have someone call and say ‘someone is chasing me’,” he said.