Turner continues “to move forward” following Russell’s declaration

Published 9:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2024

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March 20, 2024, marked a significant date for the family of Quantez DeMont Russell as the Suffolk resident was officially declared deceased.

The declaration follows nearly a decade of searching for answers after Russell’s disappearance on Nov. 11, 2015. Born on July 5, 1985, Russell grew up as a church attendee and Boy Scouts of America member but was approached by a gang member as a youth and got involved with gangs, drugs and violence as both an older youth and adult. Joan R. Turner, Russell’s mother, received a phone call at 9:04 p.m. on the day of his disappearance stating her son was “shot and unresponsive” in the City of Newport News, but with nobody and no communication ever since.

Turner, who serves as the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office’s community outreach coordinator, described reaching this moment in her journey as “bittersweet.”

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“It was just very hard to see his name in the paper as such, but I am glad this part is over, and we can continue looking for him and looking for answers,” Turner said.

Discussing the journey towards Russell’s declaration, Turner says that after finding out that she had to wait at least seven years and bring a petition to the court, Turner discovered Attorney Fred Taylor of Bush & Taylor, P.C.

“Fred’s name came up. I saw Fred, and I asked if he would assist me and he said yes. And so, now we’re here eight years, almost nine, but it’s done,” Turner said.

Speaking on the legal process, Clerk of Circuit Court W. Randolph “Randy” Carter Jr. says this type of proceeding is “fairly rare.”

“This is probably the first one in my memory and I’ve been there for 20 years and I’ve been involved over the course of so many years before that,” Carter said. “With this, I was so very pleased that I had some part in trying to bring some closure, and I think that’s the operative word here is closure… Although not done, it was a point of closure for Joan and her family on things.”

In his 15 years of practicing law, Taylor says this was the first time he’d seen a case like this.

“This took a little bit of homework on my side … Looking at that code section and making the determination in ‘Here what’s we have to include in the petition, here’s going to be the process,’ because it’s not as simple as you just show up at the courthouse or clerk’s office and say ‘We’re here, it’s been seven years…’”

Based on what he learned from the case, Taylor says that while this type of case is not frequent in the modern day, it “probably occurred fairly frequently” in the past.

“These presumptions of death apparently go back to English common law and being the history buff that I am, I sort of tracked a little bit of that and learned that at least back into the 17th century, we start seeing these [types] of cases come up.”

Taylor says during those days, people traveled and shared letters every few weeks or months to keep in contact. When the silence occurred, fear and concern would arrive from loved ones.

“Unless you hear from them or unless you hear from somebody else, you are left wondering and if they have assets or have some sort of property interest, that becomes a bigger problem because… Well, let’s say they own the house and they have some interest in some property, you can’t do anything about it if you don’t know whether they’re alive…,” Taylor said. “The presumption is that they are alive. If they are alive, you can’t change that.”

Taylor and Carter both discussed the seven-year process. Taylor says that English law determined that a process was needed because not hearing from a person for so long might indicate something tragic had occurred.

“What’s interesting about it is that seven seems to be sort of the key number. There is a number of states in the United States, but England is of course where we got it from because much of our law is derived from English common law,” Taylor said.

Carter says the seven year law was made to allow enough time to pass before declaring someone deceased.

“They don’t want someone to leave home for the weekend, they stay gone for a week, and the person is trying to declare them dead in a week,” Carter said.

Turner had nothing but high praise for both Taylor and Carter in working with them on the case.

“I feel like I owe both of them my life,” Turner said. “I’ve learned a lot through this, and I’m hoping that others who have missing persons, not only in Suffolk but throughout the state and, of course, Hampton Roads, will consider trying to make those same steps that I took and to reach out to an attorney to do the same thing.”

Regarding missing cases and similar tragedies, Turner says to “keep working at it” regarding missing cases and to stay in contact with their police department.

“Changes are made all the time throughout the police department,” Turner said. “You could be a detective one day, and then in a few more weeks, you could be a sergeant or a lieutenant. You might be placed on the street and no longer in the detective bureau.”

Turner emphasizes keeping in contact with the assigned detectives taking on the case and knowing the next person taking the role in case the previous detective moves on to a different role. Turner also says to keep their loved one’s memory and name alive and emphasizes to others in the city not to get involved with gangs.

“Do not get involved with guns and do not get involved with drugs. Be careful who you consider a friend. Not everyone is your friend,” she said. “And so, that is something that I want to share with everybody. He made those bad choices and those choices got him to, now, being missing. And then it leaves us, the loved ones, wondering ‘Where is he?’ ‘What exactly happened?’ ‘Why did it happen?’ ‘How did it happen?’”

She continued.

“Me, having a CSI brain, I wondered those things every day … ‘Was he asking to stop?’ ‘Was he asking for God to forgive him?’ All those things I think about because he was reared in the church, he did participate in church activities and he was not reared in the way that he took,” Turner said.

What’s next for Turner and her family? Turner says they are continuing to look for answers on Russell’s disappearance and are currently working with detectives while moving forward in their lives. Likewise, Turner aims to write a book on what they went through in the future to help others. Lastly, Turner shared what she wants Russell to know most of all.

“That we love him… I pray every night that he sees what we’re doing to try to keep his name alive and to help other folks through that,” Turner said emotionally. “I just want him to know that I love him.”