It had been 24 days since Dau Mabil vanished while on a walk in Jackson, Mississippi. And in the last few of those days, his family and a growing number of supporters began to think the unthinkable, that a body fished from the Pearl River over the weekend was his. And worse, that he was murdered. On Thursday, they got confirmation of the former, while the latter worry still looms.

“He was always my little brother,” Bul Mabil, Mabil’s older brother, told NBC News. “To just think that my brother is no longer here. It’s just very devastating to me. But I’m going to fight for justice the way he used to fight.”

The announcement put an end to one chapter in what had been a gut-wrenching mystery for Dau Mabil’s family, friends and community. On March 25 around noon, Dau Mabil, 33, left home to take a walk along a familiar trail. He never returned. Video from homes and businesses in the area capture his walk through the streets of his Belhaven neighborhood, and then to a wooded area where he simply disappears. Some eight hours later, his wife reported him missing to police. In the following days, police and friends scoured the area. Those days melted into frustrating weeks without any hint of Mabil. Then, a body was found in the river and Mabil’s family’s frustration dripped into fear. 

Dau Mabil vanished while on a walk in Jackson, Miss.via WBLT

In a statement released on social media on Thursday, Lawrence County Sheriff Ryan Everett, whose jurisdiction is where Mabil’s body was located, some 60 miles south of where he was last seen alive, confirmed that the recovered body was indeed Mabil’s and asked the public to keep the man’s “family and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers as they face tomorrow and the days ahead.”

Everett went further, saying, in all-caps, that a preliminary autopsy “DID NOT” show any foul play.

Yet, a string of circumstances, evidentiary and political, have led Bul Mabil to believe someone killed his brother.

“Based on the evidence that has been collected so far, it shows that foul play did take place in the cause of the death of my brother,” Mabil said. “I think this is the beginning of the chapter to try to bring this criminal accountability to the criminals that have committed crimes against my brother. I’m not going to stop even though there are two systems that have been designed here in Jackson, Mississippi, that are trying to work against me in bringing to justice the people that took away the life of my brother,” he added, referring to the overlapping police jurisdictions in the city. 

“I’m going to do the best I can by advocating to hold these people accountable. And the best way is what I’m doing today, to call on the people to really look into this case of my brother’s death. It should be a national crisis that people need to pay attention to.”

Mabil said he landed in Jackson from his home in Houston the day after his brother was reported missing. Since then, he said, the Capitol Police, who are leading the investigation, haven’t been forthcoming with information and he’s concerned that that lack of transparency might signal other issues with the investigation into his brother’s disappearance and ultimate death. With each passing day, the creeping worry that someone has done something foul to his little brother had only intensified, and that ache has been amplified by what he described as a lack of both information and interest from the Capitol Police Department, the state-run operation that splits policing duty of Jackson with the city’s traditional police department. 

“I had to find out that a body was recovered from a friend who saw it on Facebook,” Bul Mabil said. “The only way I hear from [Capitol Police] is when I call them.”

Those gaps between what his family knows, what they don’t, have been filled with information and evidence that the family and their supporters believe points to foul play.

People like Dau, his brother figured — charismatic, fun-loving jokesters — don’t just disappear without a trace, not in neighborhoods like his in Jackson, where surveillance cameras are everywhere, like seeds on a strawberry. 

Calls growing for federal investigation

A network of local and national civil rights leaders and community advocates have gathered surveillance videos and photos that they say point to possible suspects in Mabil’s disappearance and death, with some believing that a hate crime might have occurred. In one of those videos, the family believes what’s shown is a handful of men carrying a body-sized object under a white sheet, in the area where Dau was last seen alive. Dau was 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed about 145 pounds. NBC News has seen a number of these clips, provided by the NAACP, which also show a pickup truck and various unidentified men in the area where Mabil would’ve been. One of those men appeared to have a stocking or mask pulled over his face, wearing a jacket and gloves, on a day with a high temperature in the 70s.

This and other bits of new information have sparked a call for federal intervention in the investigation. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, whose district includes Jackson, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland expressing his concerns over Dau Mabil’s disappearance and calling on federal assistance “before evidence is lost or destroyed.”

“Your immediate attention is necessary because of the circumstances surrounding [Dau’s] disappearance,” Thompson said in his letter.

Derrick Johnson, head of the national NAACP, is calling for federal assistance in the case while also expressing dissatisfaction with Capitol Police.

“The NAACP stands with the Mabil family and the Jackson community in mourning the loss of Dau Mabil. It is our hope that the recovery of Dau’s body will allow his family to grieve while we fight for justice,” Johnson said. “Dau’s life mattered, and everything must be done to ensure that his tragic death receives the investigative due diligence it deserves.”

“It is unacceptable,” he added, “that for weeks, the Mississippi Capitol Police have failed to follow the basic fact patterns while delaying the course of justice. We are disgusted, but not surprised. This is not the first time that Capitol Police have neglected the Black Jacksonians they supposedly serve.”

City law enforcement sources have privately complained that Capitol Police haven’t followed up on basic leads and haven’t been forthcoming with the public about what they know about the case and possible evidence that might counter the narrative that no foul play was involved in Mabil’s death.

The backdrop to much of the local frustration with the Capitol Police has been simmering since Gov. Tate Reeves signed a controversial bill last year that extended the Capitol Police Department’s jurisdiction from an area around the Capitol building to miles into the city, taking policing power away from Jackson city police in the so-called Capitol Complex Improvement District. The state said the move was aimed at bolstering crime reduction in the city. But the optics and history of the majority-white state Legislature usurping power from the majority-Black city of Jackson created a political firestorm fueled by a long history of state-sanctioned racism.

The mysterious case of Dau Mabil’s disappearance lands squarely at the center of that fevered policing-turned-political squabble. 

“The NAACP is not backing down from this fight,” said Johnson, who lives in Jackson. “We call on the Department of Justice to act swiftly and put us on a path toward justice for this tragic loss of life. Dau, his family and our community deserve action, transparency and accountability.”

NBC News sent a request to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Capitol Police Department, for an interview on Dau’s death and subsequent investigation. On Friday afternoon, the agency responded with a statement it had earlier released, confirming preliminary results identifying the body as Dau’s and saying that official DNA confirmation is expected next week. “Due to this being an open and active investigation, no further details or information will be released at this time,” it said.

Lost boys

Dau Mabil’s fate, now clouded with mystery and fears of murder in Mississippi’s capital city, was long and winding, with roots dug more than 7,000 miles away in South Sudan. Bul and Dau Mabil were swept away by the winds of a brutal civil war and famine, landing in the U.S. in the early 2000s. They were among thousands of young men, some exploited as child soldiers, who poured out of Sudan and into neighboring countries. The lucky ones were able to survive refugee camps and later, find asylum in places like the United States. These refugees became known as “the Lost Boys of Sudan.”

Dau was just 8 or 9 when he landed in the States from a refugee camp in North Kenya. He was later adopted by an American mother in Jackson, where he’d graduate from high school and later earn an associates degree in computer science, with plans this year on enrolling in Jackson State University to continue his studies.

murder victim
Dau Mabil.Courtesy Family

For the last dozen or so years he worked at a popular local pizza place, Sal & Mookie’s. That’s where he met his wife, Karissa Bowley, who in the days after Mabil went missing sent pleas for his return in chat groups, on Facebook and in the local media.

“For me, my husband was and is my love and my life,” Bowley said in a text message. “That’s everything.”

“My brother, he was a good boy. He was always my little brother,” Bul Mabil said, reflecting on his brother’s memory. Little brother liked to crack jokes, loved soccer, never lost a debate no matter how mundane, and made it his mission to help anyone he could, he said.

“He was the strongest person you would ever meet,” he said. “I’m very sad that I’m now the only son of my family that is now left.”

Their mother still lives in a refugee camp in Kenya.  

‘Something happened to Dau’

As political tension around the case is ratcheting up, Mabil’s brother says he just wants answers and justice. On Thursday morning, just hours before Mabil’s body was publicly identified, his family petitioned Judge Dewayne Thomas to grant an injunction against Dau’s wife and the Capitol Police, which prohibits burial or cremation until the family can conduct an independent autopsy, “so that crucial evidence will not be exterminated.”

Judge Thomas granted the family’s petition. In the meantime, the Mississippi State Crime Lab has conducted a preliminary autopsy. Those results have not been made public.  

Lisa Ross, the Mabil family’s lawyer, said that an independent medical examiner is en route to Jackson and will likely perform an autopsy on Mabil’s body as early as next week.

Dau’s wife, Bowley, has since filed an alternative motion to modify Judge Thomas’s injunction. The widow, who said in court papers that she supports an additional autopsy, is requesting, among other things, that any independent autopsy only occur after all law enforcement entities presently or in the future investigating Dau’s death have completed their investigations that may require access to Dau’s remains. She’s also asking that any autopsy done at the request of Mabil’s brother be done by a pathologist who is at least as qualified as pathologists working for the state of Mississippi, and that any additional autopsy be done within one month after any law enforcement investigation has concluded. It’s unclear if or when Bowley’s motion would be approved.

Meanwhile, Ross is doubling down on the family’s allegation that Mabil was killed and called for a broader investigation into the case, including the deployment of state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice. She said there is evidence that suggests that Dau Mabil had an encounter with someone on the trail, and that encounter resulted in him losing his life.

Ross said Capitol Police have so far seemed reluctant to follow up on video evidence of that possible encounter.

“I can’t say that there are people who wanted him dead, I can say that there are people who we believe did kill him,” Ross continued. “Dau’s family have lost confidence in the local police department. We don’t want to be in a political fight between the Jackson Police Department and Capitol Police Department. We want an independent investigation so that we can be satisfied that we can get a result that we can live with, that we believe the investigation is not compromised by politics. We want the truth and we will certainly accept the truth. But until we know the truth, the way that this investigation has been conducted, you know, gives us great pause and raises many questions.”

Earlier this week, Ross and Bul Mabil went to the last known place that Dau was seen alive, and the tragic irony of the place wasn’t lost on either of them.

“We were out there this morning walking on the freedom trail which leads to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and we believe that was the last place where Dau was seen alive,” the lawyer said. “Dau escaped a civil war in the Sudan. He went through great lengths to live, only to come to Jackson, Mississippi, to vanish” and never return alive. “We want America to know what happened to Dau.”

Ross said Dau had every reason to live, no reason to harm himself and no way to simply vanish into thin air. “We believe something happened to Dau at the hands of others,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important for the community to know the concerns Dau’s brother has.”

Bul Mabil believes that, had his brother been something other than Black, perhaps his case would be further along.


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