FERGUSON, Mo. — Along a short stretch of winding road through a nondescript apartment complex, two memorials of stuffed animals mark the spots where young men died. The sites are separated by roughly 1,000 feet, but in a sense are worlds apart.
One is for Michael Brown, whose fatal shooting by a Ferguson police officer ignited months of protests and unrest and started a national conversation about race and law enforcement tactics.
The other is for DeAndre Joshua, a young black man found shot to death and set on fire on Nov. 25, the morning after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in Brown's death and Ferguson erupted in another round of violence. Outside his circle of family and friends, Joshua's name is mostly unknown.
There have been no arrests. Police have few leads. And while 40 people claimed to have seen some aspect of the confrontation that led to Brown's death, police have turned up not a single cooperating eyewitness to Joshua's slaying.
The U.S. Justice Department would find that Wilson was justified in shooting Brown. But in another report, it determined that minorities in Ferguson are disproportionately stopped and searched, fined for petty offenses and subject to excessive police force.
If blacks have reason to distrust police, that distrust also makes it harder for police to investigate crimes — especially in Ferguson, especially over the past eight months. "Just with that time frame, with the whole Michael Brown case, and the hatred toward law enforcement, our detectives are having a tough time with people coming forward and letting us know what happened," said Shawn McGuire, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department, which is investigating Joshua's death.
Police must also contend with the fear that cooperation with authorities invites retribution from criminals.
Regardless of the reason, DeAndre Joshua's killer remains at large. And his loved ones are angry.
"If it was me, if I knew something like that, it would eat my brain up not to tell," said his mother, Maria Joshua, in an interview at her home. "Because if you don't, they are going to do it to someone else. And just put yourself in my shoes. What if it was your family member?"
Joshua was 20 years old, an aspiring rapper and overnight stocker at Wal-Mart. Known to his buddies as "Twin," and described by friends and relatives as playful and quick to smile, he graduated from Jennings Senior High School, and lived at the time of his death with his mother and siblings in University City, about a 20-minute drive south from Ferguson. He spent his last day hanging out with relatives at his aunt's house in Ferguson, where he often stayed to be closer to his job.
Joshua had had brushes with the law in the past, but his family says he was on the right track. They insist that he wasn't involved in dealing drugs or gang activity —and did not join in the protests or riots that followed Brown's death.
Records show that he was arrested in St. Louis in April 2013 for resisting arrest, when Joshua, his twin brother and three others were in a white Chevrolet Impala that was believed to be used in an armed robbery. One of the men allegedly pointed a gun at police officers before the Impala sped off, and they all ran or resisted when the car stopped after a chase, according to court documents; Joshua was given a suspended jail sentence and probation.
In anticipation of the grand jury's decision, Wal-Mart had decided to close, and Joshua was happy to have the night off.
According to interviews with relatives and friends, he spent the afternoon and evening visiting with his cousins at his aunt's house. At 7:48 p.m., Joshua, who liked to share pictures of himself flashing cash, posted his last public message on Facebook: "All I want is sum money."
Along with his relatives, and still wearing his Wal-Mart uniform, Joshua watched the violence unfold on the TV news.
Joshua sent a private message to his girlfriend, Georgia Young, saying he needed to pick up a coat from her apartment in the Canfield Green complex, steps from where Brown had been killed. Sometime that evening — it's not entirely clear when, but it was at least a couple of hours after he had sent the message — Young said Joshua showed up at her apartment.
Joshua was in and out of the apartment, Young said. At one point, well after midnight, he returned to the house of his aunt, Monique Joshua, to pick an iPad he said he had been trying to sell. He had left her house earlier with two iPads, before returning for the third, his aunt said.
The last time he returned to Georgia Young's apartment, she says he stayed for about a half hour before slipping out of his pants and into bed. Five minutes later, sometime around 2 a.m., Joshua suddenly got out of bed, grabbed three iPads and his pistol, and departed, without saying where he was going. Young said it wasn't unusual for him to have a weapon, because in that neighborhood, "everybody carries a gun." She did find it unusual that he left behind the iPads' chargers if he was trying to sell the devices.
After leaving Young's apartment, Joshua showed up at another apartment in Canfield Green and knocked on the door of a friend, Sabrina Webb — a cousin of Michael Brown's. It was between 2:30 and 3 a.m., Webb said. She said Joshua banged on the door so hard that it startled her. He was usually playful — he might cover the peep hole after he knocked. But now, "It seemed like he was afraid of something," Webb said. "He was looking all around like he needed to come in, but he never asked to come in."
A tall, thin black man with "a low haircut," someone she did not know, stood off to the side. She asked Joshua who the stranger was, and the man quickly responded, "I'm his cousin."
"DeAndre looked up at him like it wasn't his cousin, but like he didn't want to disagree with him, like he was afraid," Webb recalled.
Webb said Joshua turned around and trotted down the stairs. The unknown man followed after him, catching up to Joshua in the parking lot. They walked away together. The entire visit lasted a minute or so, Webb said.
About an hour after sunrise the next morning, Joshua's corpse was found in the driver's seat of his white 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix. He had been shot once in the left side of his head, and had been set on fire with some sort of accelerant that left burns on his arm, fingers and legs. Based on the body's condition, police say they believe he had been dead for several hours.
Word spread quickly, fueled by blogs and Facebook postings, that Joshua had been murdered because he had testified before the grand jury investigating Brown's death, presumably giving a version favorable to police. The rumor gained traction when people pointed out the words spray-painted on the wall of a burned gas station nearby: "Snitches Get Stitches."
It was so pervasive that the county prosecutor's office felt compelled to publicly state that Joshua had not appeared before the grand jury.
Ferguson, with 21,000 residents, is not a large town. Perhaps inevitably, while there has been no indication that Joshua and Brown knew each other, they did have connections. Webb was one. Another was Joshua's longtime friend Dorian Johnson, who had been with Brown when he was killed and subsequently told contradictory stories about what he had seen and what had occurred.
Johnson told AP in a telephone interview that he was not sure why Joshua was out that time of morning, but speculated that it was probably "to support me."
Johnson agreed to an in-person interview about Joshua early last month; the AP arranged to use a conference room at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, but he never showed up and stopped responding to messages.
Johnson hasn't been the only one reluctant to talk about Joshua and his death. An AP reporter attempted to interview more than a dozen residents who live in the immediate vicinity of where Joshua's body was found, but most declined. There is a lot of suspicion in this neighborhood, and few answers.
The same day that AP interviewed Young and others at Canfield Green and Northwinds Apartments, the neighboring complex where his body was found, someone threw a sparkplug through the living room window of Maria Joshua's home in a nearby city. Whether or not the incident was related to her son's death, it frightened her.
"What I'm afraid of is the unknown, seriously, the unknown. I don't know who did this, and why. But I do want some justice," Maria Joshua said.
So much is unknown: Was it the jealous ex-boyfriend of a lover? Was he set up for a robbery? Did someone with a score to settle use the chaos of that night to shoot him while bullets were literally flying all over town?
Webb told the AP that Joshua did not have any iPads with him when she saw him. Police won't say if they recovered iPads or a gun in the car with Joshua's body, citing the ongoing investigation. Joshua's mother told the AP investigators found $360 in her son's pocket. It's not clear, then, if robbery could have been a motive.
Maria Joshua said the description of the man given by Webb does not resemble any of her son's cousins. She added that to her knowledge, none of his cousins went with him to Webb's apartment that morning.
She said police haven't told her much — they say they do not want to compromise their investigation. They have yet to talk to Joshua's friend, Webb.
Teresa Williams, who lives in an apartment adjoining the parking lot where the body was found, told AP she saw the car that morning through her window and was disturbed to learn that a man had died. She said police interviewed her that day, and she told them she heard gunshots all night long, but wasn't sure when the one that killed Joshua was fired.
"They asked me if I stuck my head out to see who was shooting," she recalled, standing in the doorway of her apartment and shaking her head. "I said, 'Why would I do that?'"
The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at [email protected]