A North Carolina family is demanding answers after their loved one's body was found facedown on the lawn of an empty home where a groundskeeper saw it, mistook it for a prop dummy and mowed the grass around it.
The body of Robert Paul Owens, 34, was found Oct. 10 at an abandoned log cabin used by several law enforcement agencies for training on Shue Road in the small town of China Grove, about 35 miles northeast of Charlotte, China Grove police said.
The day before, on Oct. 9, a groundskeeper saw the body as he was mowing the property but believed it was "a fake dummy used for training" and as a result didn’t report it, police said.
A construction worker on the property reported the body to police the next day.
Haley Shue, Owens' sister, told NBC News her family is heartbroken that her brother's body wasn't reported sooner. The body was exposed for so long that the family won't be able to have an open casket memorial for him, she said.
She remembered her brother as a kind person who adored his nieces and nephews.
The family suspects foul play, she said.
Shue said her family last saw Owens on Oct. 8. That day he spent time with a friend, went to a gas station and got a ride from a friend back to his grandmother's house, where he lived. Later, he was picked up by someone to visit another friend but didn't return home.
The abandoned home where he was found is near his grandmother's home. It is a property he had never been to before, his sister said. She described it as being off the main road, down a long driveway with woods on either side and not visible to neighbors.
On Oct. 10, Shue got a call from her mother saying no one had heard from her brother in two days. Later that day, police notified the family that Owens' body was found, identified by his tattoos.
But, Shue said, police refused to tell the family where he was found, what state he was in or how he may have died, saying simply that he didn't have a gunshot wound.
“As of right now, no family member has laid eyes on him since this occurred,” Shue said.
She and her family took it upon themselves to find the house, where they found the construction worker who reported Owens' body to police.
He said he found Owens “facedown in his underwear and socks with one arm under him, one arm out," with "marks on his arms that he took as what looked to be defensive marks," Shue said.
“You can only think what’s running through our mind. He doesn’t have any of his clothes — where’s his clothes? Where’s his belongings? Where’s his wallet, his cellphone, shoes and all that?” she said.
The construction worker told Shue and her family that the groundskeeper saw Owens' body the day before.
“His words were that [the groundskeeper] assumed that [my brother] was Halloween decor or a mannequin, and I guess he took it upon himself to assume that and not verify and mowed the entire property,” Shue said.
“It just blows our mind how someone cannot stop and verify this is a strange Halloween decoration or a strange mannequin or dummy — why would officers leave this behind?” she added.
The family was further frustrated to find that there was no crime scene tape or sign of preserving the scene.
"We just feel they should have protected the scene for a little while,” Shue said.
Preliminary findings from an autopsy conducted Friday ruled out any signs of assault or trauma to the body, police said, noting that a toxicology report is pending to determine cause of death.
“There’s definitely some sort of foul play. We have been briefly told [by police] about some glass around his body. We don’t know if that glass is from a car or something else," Shue said. "There’s no broken glass on the house.”
The family asked the public to call in with tips if they saw or heard of anything suspicious in China Grove on Oct. 8 that could help solve what happened to Owens.
“Someone is involved in this, and someone knows of this property and knows that the house is there to have brought him there,” Shue said.
The family has created an online fundraiser to cover Owens' funeral costs.
“That’s something we have to live with, knowing no family ever identified him. No family got to say any final goodbyes to him. We just want to bring awareness to it," Shue said. "We miss him dearly."