Two days before 10-year-old Barway Collins disappeared, his father had inquired about upgrading the boy's life insurance policy, according to second-degree murder charges filed Tuesday.
At a news conference announcing the charges against Pierre Collins and identifying him as the sole suspect in his son's death, authorities said a grand jury will be asked to look at the evidence for a possible first-degree murder indictment. Barway's body, bound with duct tape at the feet and torso, was found Saturday in the Mississippi River in Brooklyn Center by volunteer searchers.
Collins, 33, who is being held in the Hennepin County jail on $2 million bail, will have his first court appearance at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The charges against him focus heavily on cellphone signals that provide a detailed account of his whereabouts on March 18, the day Barway disappeared.
"This is a tragedy," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at a news conference in Minneapolis. "From every report, [Barway] was a fine, precocious, exciting young man whose life was snuffed out. There's no reason for it.
"We believe the father took him to the river and dumped him in a waste water, stormwater cistern, and he remained underwater for 24 days" before entering the river, Freeman said.
The body's condition indicated that it had been in the water for some time, but authorities have not been able to establish an exact cause of death, the charges say.
Crystal police had identified Collins as a suspect early in the investigation into the disappearance of Barway, who was last seen hopping out of his school van in front of the Crystal apartment building where he lived with his father, stepmother and two younger siblings.
Collins, who was deeply in debt and had no income, had two life insurance policies on his son, authorities say. One covered Collins himself for $100,000 and each of his children for $20,000. The other, for $30,000 on Barway, was purchased through a different company. On March 16, Collins made a payment on the second policy and asked about raising the coverage to $50,000, the complaint says.
The morning Barway was reported missing, Collins had attended a hearing at Hennepin County Family Court regarding his child support for children from a previous relationship, charges say.
Phone records show that after the hearing, from 9:22 to 9:29 a.m., Collins was near 53rd-56th and Lyndale avenues N., where Barway's body was later found, the charges say. He had no reason to be there, nor had he visited that area for 30 days before his son disappeared, authorities say.
After Barway got home from school, he was seen walking from his father's car to the apartment, where he peered inside a window but did not enter, the charges say. At the time, cellphone signals show that Collins was either in or near the apartment building.
At 4:42 p.m., Collins was again in the area of Lyndale and 55th avenues N., the phone signals indicate.
From 4:42 to almost 5:41 p.m., his phone registers no activity, meaning it was either turned off or in airplane mode, the charges say.
During that time, Collins was seen electronically checking his bank account balance at a TCF Bank inside Cub Foods in Brooklyn Center.
When the phone was turned back on, he called Yamah, his wife and Barway's stepmother, who told him that the boy had not arrived home from school.
At 5:51 p.m., Pierre arrived home, Yamah later told police. She said he was in tears, which she thought was odd because he was not generally emotional and his son had not been gone that long.
At 6:03, Pierre left the apartment building again in his car after having changed his shirt and put on a cap, the charges say. He returned to the building in his car at 6:24 p.m.
At 6:27 p.m., he called 911 from his cellphone to report Barway missing, the phone signals indicate.
Vigil, service planned
Earlier Tuesday, the Rev. Harding Smith, the family's spokesman, said Pierre is "segregated" in jail to protect him, and that he continues to deny any involvement in his son's disappearance and death.
"He said, 'Pastor, I did not do this,' " Smith said. "I believe him."
Smith appeared at a news conference with Yamah Collins, her two children with Pierre, other relatives of Yamah, and Pierre's brother and two sisters. They declined to comment.
Chris Wisner, chairman of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, said that the immigrant community is trying to help Barway's biological mother, who lives in Liberia, come to Minnesota.
Smith said the boy's body has been released by the medical examiner for burial. The community plans a vigil in front of the Collinses' Cedarwood Apartments building at 1 p.m. Saturday, and a memorial service at 2 p.m. Sunday at North Mississippi Regional Park.