NEW ORLEANS — Pamela Philips can’t help but smile when she thinks about her son, Bruce Jacobs Jr., who went by “BJ.”
“He was so fun,” said Phillips. “I don’t think he ever met a stranger, ever.”
Those smiles give way to the painful reality that her son is no longer here.
“The last time I actually saw him, which I didn’t know was going to be the last time, he was actually on a laptop, getting ready to do something online, classwork,” said Phillips.
That was in August of 2019. Phillips rushed off to work and planned to take her 23-year-old son to Lake Pontchartrain for some mother-son time when she got home from work.
“He was gone, and I was thinking like, I know we’re supposed to go somewhere, so I just kind of waited, thinking he was close by in the neighborhood or something,” said Phillips. “I called his phone. He didn’t answer.”
Her worry led Phillips to call friends and hospitals. She then called the Orleans Parish Jail.
“They said he was in Orleans Parish,” said Phillips.
Phillips says her son was arrested for shoplifting in New Orleans, out of character and far from his home in Metairie.
“I’m like, ‘Something has to be wrong,’” said Phillips.
Having not spoken to or seen her son, Phillips was told BJ would be released the next day. When she went to pick him up, he was already gone.
“From that moment on, I had been looking for him every single day,” said Phillips.
Phillips spent a week looking for BJ. She filed a missing person’s report with New Orleans Police, then followed up when she never saw the case publicized.
“They came in and told us that the day before, there was a body that was found, and they’re 99 percent sure it was him, but the body had started decomposing,” said Phillips.
Dental records confirmed it was BJ’s body found underneath the Almonaster Bridge near Florida Avenue. More than three years later, BJ’s family still has no idea what happened.
“This happened in August of 2019. To me, it feels like yesterday. I promise you. There’s no closure,” said Phillips. “There’s none.”
Making closure feel unlikely, BJ’s death is listed as “unclassified” even though his mom says the autopsy showed his ribs were broken and the toxicology report gave no indication of drugs or alcohol.
“Because his death is unclassified, you don’t have a detective that is really working on the case, the same as maybe if it was a homicide,” said Phillips.
Phillips feels her son’s case would have been treated differently if it was an obvious homicide. She hopes working with Crimestoppers can bring new information.
“He was getting ready to go to a ball,” said Phillips as she points to a picture of BJ in a tuxedo.
The oldest of her three sons, Phillips, says BJ loved music and wanted to pursue a career in business. He often made videos and sold CDs, which Phillips now cherishes with a smile and determination.
“As a parent, I’m not giving up. I want to know what happened to my son, and I feel like that’s keeping me from having closure,” said Phillips.
Adding to the mystery, Phillips says BJ’s body was found with jail release papers belonging to another man. That man was reported missing to New Orleans police around the same time as BJ’s death. He’s still missing, and police suspect foul play.
There is a $1,000 Crimestoppers reward in BJ’s case. Tips are anonymous. You can reach Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111.
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