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Demonstrators in Columbia join calls seeking answers in Weatherspoon death

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COLUMBIA — Elijah Weatherspoon's name was chanted by demonstrators at the S.C. Statehouse on Friday who sought to turn up pressure on the State Law Enforcement Division for a full public investigation into the drowning death of the Charleston high school student who went missing while boating with friends in June.

About 20 demonstrators held signs and marched near the Confederate Soldier Memorial in front of the Statehouse.

"Say his name: Elijah Weatherspoon!" demonstrators chanted.

Organizers said that Weatherspoon's case fits a pattern of law enforcement doing too little to investigate Black deaths. 

Weatherspoon, 18, had been boating in the Charleston Harbor with eight others on June 25 when he went under near the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Authorities found his body near Sullivan’s Island on June 28.

SLED agreed to investigate Weatherspoon’s death at the beginning of July, as community leaders called for more transparency amid conflicting accounts of how the teenager fell into the water.

"We want a real investigation," said rally organizer Justin Hunt of Charleston, president of the activist group Stand as One. "We want answers." 

Members of the community are concerned about reports that it took several hours for Weatherspoon to be reported missing, said Elijah Whiteside, a 17-year-old student at Charleston Advancement Academy High School

A protest outside SLED headquarters in Columbia has been planned for Aug. 21. Hunt said the motivation is to make sure that Black deaths get the attention they deserve, above and beyond the Weatherspoon case.

Investigators are still working on the case, SLED spokesman Tommy Crosby said, and are taking their time to review it fully. Protesters have every right to demonstrate peacefully, but the department is already conducting an exhaustive inquiry, he said.

“We are doing what we always do, and conducting a thorough investigation,” Crosby said on Friday. “It remains an active, open case.”

Friends and family of Weatherspoon shared suspicions of foul play on social media, saying they’d expect more answers if a white boater had died under similar circumstances.

"We're not really assuming that it is racially charged, but I think a lot of people are thinking that, but we are demanding that the full story come out," Whiteside said.

Sara Coello contributed to this report.

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