Shawn Gray: Death of Man Found in River Des Peres Remains a Mystery

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Shawn Gray went missing on Thanksgiving and was found dead about a week later in River Des Peres. His family and friends are still looking for answers about what happened. - FACEBOOK
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  • Shawn Gray went missing on Thanksgiving and was found dead about a week later in River Des Peres. His family and friends are still looking for answers about what happened.

It's been more than two months since a woman out walking on December 4 discovered the body of Shawn Gray. The 23-year-old musician, trick skateboarder and dishwasher at Cardwell's in Clayton, had been missing for a week. How this young man, who family and friends say was so full of life, turned up dead in a dry section of the River Des Peres remains an enigma. Nearly as puzzling is the gossip that circulated online in early December that Gray was somehow tied to the grand jury investigation of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot Michael Brown.

Gray's mother, Shanon Battile, 45, says the rumors that her son was killed in retaliation for testifying before the grand jury have been both upsetting and confusing. "I was baffled. What would that even come from? Where would they get that from?" she asks. "He didn't even know Mike Brown."

Tim Banta, 23, a close friend, tells Daily RFT that anyone who knew Gray would know that the Mike Brown case and protests associated with it were "the last thing Shawn gave a fuck about." See also: Anguish, Arson and Tear Gas in Ferguson after Grand Jury Decision

Gray was last seen alive on Thanksgiving -- some three days after the grand jury reached its controversial decision that led to days of regional unrest. The night of his disappearance, Gray had worked a shift at Cardwell's and later stuck around till about 11 p.m. having a couple drinks with a coworker.

Around midnight, Clayton police pulled over Gray in his silver 1997 Acura Integra on Maryland Avenue near Interstate 170. Clayton police chief Kevin Murphy could not provide Daily RFT with a reason why Gray was pulled over, but no arrest was made, and a St. Louis County Cab was called to take Gray to where he was heading. (St. Louis County Cab was unable to immediately confirm to Daily RFT that one of its taxis was called that night and where it may have taken Gray.) Four days later, Gray's mother found his car where he had left it, in the parking lot outside MaggieMoo's Ice Cream and Treatery.

"You have to remember, [on November 27] we were in the thick of the aftermath of the grand-jury decision," explains Murphy, who adds that officers are allowed to exercise discretion during traffic stops, including whether to conduct field sobriety tests.

But where did Gray go to in that taxi, and how did he spend that last week?

Gray was known for his ability to ride a skateboard for blocks at a time while maintaining a handstand. - FACEBOOK
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  • Gray was known for his ability to ride a skateboard for blocks at a time while maintaining a handstand.

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Gray was known for his ability to ride a skateboard for blocks at a time while maintaining a handstand.
"For the first couple of days, I thought he ran away because I didn't want to believe anything else happened to him," says Gray's older brother, Dale. "But as the days just kept going on, I started to think: Something's really wrong with my bro now."

Battile notified St. Louis police of her son's disappearance on November 29. A friend created a Facebook page to help find him shortly after that.

Dale Gray was working at the Shop 'n Save at Watson Road and River Des Peres Boulevard when a coworker told him that a body had apparently just been found in the river. Dale's heart began pounding. He walked straight toward the site, still wearing his work apron. When he arrived, his family and friends were already there. Seeing his brother lying dead in that creek bed is an image Dale says he'll never shake. Dale and his uncle lived with Gray in an apartment building just across the street from where the body was found.

Police labeled Gray's death "suspicious" and assigned the case to homicide detectives. An autopsy could not determine Gray's cause of death. Gray's mother says a medical examiner told her there were no signs of strangulation, drowning, or knife or gun shot wounds.

The family still awaits results from a toxicology test to determine if alcohol or drugs may have factored into his death. A police spokesperson told Daily RFT last week that the toxicology results are now complete but could not be released because they are under review.

In the meantime, Dale has a hard time believing that his brother could have overdosed on drugs. "He smoked a lot of weed and maybe 'shrooms here and there," he says, but, "heroin and all that stuff? No. He loved his life. He loved to live, so I don't think he would do heroin. He had too many good people around to do that."

Banta, who says he spoke to Gray nearly every day and whose family considered Gray one of its own, agreed. Gray was never interested in pills or any heavy drugs, he says. "I'm just super confused about it. Nothing adds up," says Banta. "He was missing for a week. Somebody put him there. He didn't just decide to die in the river."

Now Gray's mother and brother are holding out hope that that the toxicology results will at least provide some kind of explanation or even closure.

"Because right now, we just don't know nothing," says Dale.

Regardless of the outcome of that toxicology report, Banta doubts that he -- nor anyone -- will ever know the full story of what became of his friend.

"I feel like in all reality, it's just another black man who died in St. Louis, and it's just going to stay a mystery," he says. "I mean, I don't want to believe that, but I think it's the cold hard truth." Contact the author at brian.d.heffernan@gmail.com or on Twitter at @brianheff.

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