The founder of Baton Rouge's African American history museum died of suffocation and her death was a homicide, a coroner ruled Monday, as residents of Louisiana's capital city struggled to come to terms with the slaying of the well-respected, 75-year-old community leader.
East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark released preliminary autopsy results that show Sadie Roberts-Joseph was suffocated before her body was found in the trunk of a car Friday.
He said Roberts-Joseph died from "traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation." The Advocate reports this means her airways were physically blocked, cutting off her oxygen supply.
Roberts-Joseph founded the Baton Rouge African American Museum in 2001. It features a 1953 bus that visitors can board to learn more about the Baton Rouge bus boycott of that year. They can also learn about three different types of cotton grown in the museum's garden, and learn more about African American contributions in areas such as inventions and art.
C. Denise Marcelle, a state representative and former member of the council that governs Baton Rouge, had known Roberts-Joseph for years. They worked together on Juneteenth celebrations which commemorate the end of slavery.
"She was just a very likeable person and that is why the community is so outraged," Marcelle said. "It's really a shock to the entire Baton Rouge community. It's just a shock."
Recently Marcelle said she'd put the lieutenant governor's office in touch with Roberts-Joseph so they could work together on a civil rights trail project across Louisiana. Marcelle said Roberts-Joseph often came to the council to speak on various issues. She was soft-spoken and even if she disagreed with you on an issue, she did it respectfully, Marcelle said.
The Baton Rouge Police Department announced Saturday that Roberts-Joseph's body had been discovered Friday. Sgt. L'Jean Mckneely Jr. said Monday that she'd been discovered in the trunk of her own vehicle.
"The Baton Rouge Police Department joins the community in mourning the loss of Ms. Sadie Roberts-Joseph. Ms. Sadie was a tireless advocate of peace in the community," the department said in a Facebook post Saturday.
"We had opportunities to work with her on so many levels. From assisting with her bicycle giveaway at the African American Museum to working with the organization she started called CADAV. (Community Against Drugs and Violence) Ms. Sadie is a treasure to our community, she will be missed by BRPD and her loss will be felt in the community she served," the post said.