Rasheem Ryelle Carter was a star wide receiver in high school and the captain of his baseball team in Fayette, Mississippi.
“He was very outgoing, he loved sports,” said his mother, Tiffany Carter.
After graduating from Hinds Community College in Utica in 2016 with a degree in welding and cutting technology, he went to work for a railroad company in Brookhaven, Mississippi, which his mother said was “his first real job.” In late September, Carter started a new lumber contracting job in Taylorsville, Mississippi.
The job helped him support his young daughter. But on Oct. 1 last year, he called and sent his mother a worrying text that expressed fear for his life. “When he sent that to me, I freaked out. And I kept calling him and calling him, until he texted back saying, ‘I’m good, Mama,’” Tiffany Carter told HuffPost.
When they were on the phone, she told HuffPost, Carter said white men in three pickup trucks were following and harassing him.
Later that day, he went to the police station in Taylorsville. What happened there remains a key point of contention between his family and the police. According to Tiffany Carter, Rasheem went to the Taylorsville police twice to report he feared for his life. He also asked for a ride back to the Super 8 motel in Laurel, where he was living, about 22 miles southeast of Taylorsville.
Police agree that Carter asked for a ride, but they have given conflicting accounts about the extent to which he voiced fear for his life ― or if he did at all.
Earlier this year, Taylorsville police told HuffPost that Carter never mentioned fearing for his life and that police denied his request for a ride because they were not a “taxi service.” But Taylorsville Police Chief Gabe Horn told a local newspaper something else in December: that Carter did file a police report when he visited the station but declined to press any charges against whomever was threatening him. He said police refused to give him a ride to Laurel because it was out of the department’s jurisdiction.
Carter left the police station. And he never made it back to the motel.
Meanwhile, Tiffany Carter was in a growing panic. All she could think about was what he texted her. As more time passed, she sent her friend out to find him, but the friend was unsuccessful. So Tiffany Carter reported her son missing to Laurel authorities on Oct. 2. She had spoken to him earlier that day and had a normal conversation, but then he stopped responding to subsequent messages.
“I called them and reported that my son was missing, I had not talked to him, and it was strange that we didn’t talk,” she told HuffPost.
One month later, on Nov. 2, police found Carter’s body in a wooded area just a few miles from the Taylorsville police station.
The Taylorsville Police Department would not comment on the case. HuffPost made several calls and sent emails to contact Horn but did not receive a response.
The Smith County Sheriff’s Office in Raleigh, which was running the investigation, put out a statement on Nov. 3: “At this time, we have no reason to believe foul play was involved, but the case is still under investigation.”
The Carter family was immediately skeptical.
The autopsy performed by the state medical examiner later that month, on Nov. 22, was more circumspect. It did note that the remains showed “no pathological conditions or significant skeletal trauma” but did observe several fractures. It said decomposition was very advanced and the remains were incomplete. It listed the cause of death as “undetermined.”
Smith County Sheriff Joel Houston told HuffPost that that is how his office is treating the case and that it is actively pursuing several angles, including “several search warrants for electronic devices.”
But to the family and their lawyer, noted civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, the remains show something else altogether. Crump’s office took possession of Carter’s remains after the state was finished and performed an independent analysis of the state results, as well as an independent autopsy.
In a Monday news conference, Crump said his examinations revealed that Carter had been “dismembered” and his head was not attached to his body.
“What that tells us is that this was a nefarious act. This was an evil act. Somebody murdered Rasheem Carter. And we cannot let them get away with this,” Crump said. “When you look at these pictures taken at the autopsy, it tells you there is nothing natural about this. It screams out for justice.”
There are other details that deepen the question of whether somebody killed Carter. On Oct. 4, Tiffany Carter said an investigator flagged to her that there was a $500 transaction on his debit card from an ATM. She shared a transaction record with HuffPost that showed the card. But Houston, the Smith County sheriff, told HuffPost his office believed the card had not actually been used since August, and he did not explain the discrepancy with the transaction record.
And disturbing imagery from Carter’s final hours has shocked his family. Someone captured Carter on a deer trail camera on the property where his body was found. The photos began circulating in the community; someone shared one photo with the family, and police also became aware of the photos, Houston said.
The image Carter’s family saw, and shared with HuffPost, shows a side profile of Carter in the woods with his shirt off, wearing blue jeans, with some kind of wooden object on his shoulder.
Tiffany Carter said she believes the image shows her son in fear, as if he is running away from someone or trying to protect himself. Houston did not say if there were other photos of Carter in his last days.
The family, local activists and residents want answers about what happened. Tiffany Carter thinks police have not been forthcoming about all the details surrounding her son’s death.
“I will never let my son go, never. He will always have a place in my heart because that was my baby boy,” Tiffany Carter said. “I can’t change what has happened, but I can make sure it does not happen to somebody else. I can go out there and still fight and still try to get justice for my son and anybody else.”
The case initially received little to no media attention, but the rallies and demonstrations in Taylorsville have garnered the attention of local television stations. Over the last five months, Carter’s family has held several demonstrations that have drawn significant local turnout.
Duvalier Malone, an author and activist from Fayette, where Carter was born, told HuffPost that Mississippi’s violent history against Black people is the main reason why Carter’s family and other local activists in the state are uneasy.
“Mississippi’s justice system is still brutally not made for Black or brown people. You cannot tell me if that was a white body gone missing, Mississippi Bureau of Investigations and the FBI wouldn’t have [aggressively] been looking into this,” Malone said. “It is amazing how Rasheem is one of many stories that go unreported in Mississippi every day. And that poor family is hurting as a result of it.”
“Rasheem knew he was in danger. He went to the police station, and there has been a lack of accountability to the police station,” Malone added.
A Washington Post report found that since 2000, there have been at least eight suspected lynchings of Black men and teenagers in Mississippi, and local police departments have repeatedly been accused of racist practices.
Carter’s family said it is not going to stop pushing for answers. “It happens, but this time it happened to the wrong person, which is Rasheem,” said Tarsha Clark, his cousin. “Because he has a family that is going to fight behind him.”