ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The family of one of two men found dead Wednesday morning in a burned-out SUV in St Augustine made an emotional plea on Thursday for answers.
Police have not released the identities of the two people in the SUV, but family members said one of them was Charles Durden. They said the other was a friend of Durden's, but News4Jax is not naming him until we confirm his identity with police or the man's family members.
Annette Durden, Charles Durden's mother, was distraught Thursday as she dealt with the reality that her son is gone.
“I just want justice for my family, for me, for my grandbabies, and I'm trying so hard not to break down right now,” she said.
Annette Durden said her 27-year-old son was the father of two young children. She said he was one of the men found dead inside an SUV that was engulfed in flames on Spring Street near Fred Waters Way in St. Augustine.
After firefighters put out the fire, officers found two bodies inside the Dodge Journey. Police said the medical examiner is trying to determine the identities of the victims, but Charles Durden's aunt, Frankie Durden, said jewelry that one of the men was wearing belonged to her nephew.
Frankie Durden said she was home early Wednesday morning not far from where the SUV was found when she heard gunshots, followed by an explosion.
Investigators have not said if there was a shooting before the fire, which was so hot it melted off the writing on a nearby street sign and burned a street light. They have called the fire suspicious, but have stopped short of calling it a homicide investigation
Police said neighbors also reported hearing an explosion just before seeing the SUV on fire. Detectives and a K-9 team processed the area looking for evidence and trying to track anyone who might have left the area.
Annette Durden said investigators have given her family some information, but they are hoping for more.
“If you have a heart, if you have a conscience, come forth, because you can't hide for long,” she said.
Frankie Durden said Charles Durden loved his children.
“And his children loved him,” she said. “I'm asking you, whoever you are, if you have a heart, would you please come forward, because his mama does not deserve this.”
Now, instead of planning for the holidays, Annette and Frankie Durden are planning a funeral.
“They took the honor of burying his body from me. I don't even have that,” Annette Durden said. “This was not an act of God. This was truly an act of evil, hate. And I don't know why.”
Family and loved ones gathered to remember Charles Durden at vigil Thursday evening on Spring Street where the SUV was found.
"It means the world to me. Words can't express how I feel right now. I'm overwhelmed, My heart is leaping for joy, you see how many friends, family and loved ones came out to support this occasion in his honor," Annette Durden said.
Pastor Shelanjoah Session-Willis, one of the family friends who attended the vigil, described Charles Durden as a good man who was always laughing and smiling.
"He had a lot of integrity, He was a man of substance, a man of standard and a man of caliber," Session-Willis said. "We grieve. We're very sad. Our hearts or heavy. But we must pick up the pieces and go on."
Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact CrimeStoppers of Northeast Florida at 1-888-277-8477. The reward has been raised to $5,000 for any information leading to an arrest in the case.
Any business or resident within a mile of the intersection at Spring Street and Fred Waters Way that might have a security camera system working is asked to check their footage and see if anything unusual happens on the video on Nov. 16 from 12 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.