Denzel Curnell's family isn't talking about his death last Friday night.

They are waiting for answers, just as they have been for five days.

Five days.

Think about how you would feel if your child was killed and, nearly a week later, you didn't know why.

The trouble is, no one else is talking either. And the silence is not only deafening, it's painful.

Obviously there are some things that law enforcement can't discuss during investigations. But this case is bizarre, and the lack of an explanation has led to a lot of speculation and theories. And none of this is helping Curnell's family - or a concerned community.

Here is all we know for sure:

Curnell was at Bridgeview Village apartments around 10:30 p.m. Friday.

An off-duty Charleston police officer was on the scene, moonlighting as security for the complex.

Curnell died of a gunshot wound to the head.

It's unclear what, if any, role the officer had in Curnell's death. Charleston police turned the investigation over to the State Law Enforcement Division. Since then, the police have said little other than telling city council members it was a possible suicide.

On Monday, Chief Greg Mullen - upset about the rumors and misinformation spreading through the city - said that the officer did not fire his gun. Tuesday he said that an encounter between Curnell and the officer is why SLED was called in.

Just like everything else with this case, each new detail raises more questions than it answers.

And five days later, that's the problem.

Acting suspicious?

Local attorney Andy Savage is a friend of Curnell's family and is counseling them through this ordeal.

And like a lot of people, he's been critical of the way police have handled this.

"It's telling that the police have not reached out to the family," Savage says. "You don't have to tell them everything, but at least be humane about it."

Savage says the same goes for the community. He's a lawyer, he understands not contaminating investigations, but he says that the lock-down on information creates a vacuum.

And the public - like nature - abhors a vacuum.

People start making assumptions based on their world view. Some people will think a 19-year-old with a gun was obviously up to no good. Never mind that Curnell has never been in trouble, had just graduated from high school and had gone into the military.

And other people, with different world views, will think that an overzealous police officer stereotyped and shot a kid who was doing nothing wrong.

With no other story line to follow, or explanation of what happened, even people with no preconceived notions are looking at the police differently now.

"The way the police are reacting is making people suspicious," Savage says.


Chief Mullen is frustrated.

He is trying to assure the community that the incident is being investigated, but he says he can't really talk about it because it's not his department running the show.

If it was, then the police would be lambasted for investigating one of their own.

"The police department is in a very difficult position because no matter what we do somebody is going to look at it and say we're doing the wrong thing," Mullen says. "No matter what the outcome, it was a tragedy. I'm sorry if I'm not doing everything right in some people's opinion."

Mullen says an officer did call Curnell's family to express condolences and offer to help but, because they are not doing the investigating, they have not kept in touch. And he's not sure the family would even want that.

The fact that he has to explain that shows just how tight a lockdown there is, and Mullen recognizes the dilemma.

"It is a vacuum, created by the system," the chief says. "I just hope the people who know me, who know the police department, know we are trying to do the right thing."

Problem is, most people don't understand the system. The police are in a bad spot, but most people just think they have been squirrelly.

It's a shame: When she arrived on the scene, Capt. Naomi Broughton rightly recognized the potential for trouble with this incident and called in SLED.

She thought that would ease people's minds. Instead it has just created a set of circumstances where every answer leads to two more questions.

And meanwhile, Curnell's family still doesn't know what happened to Denzel.

Reach Brian Hicks at