David L. Ryan / Globe Staff
CANTON -- Delvonte Tisdale "more likely than not" fell out of an airplane as it prepared to land at Boston's Logan Airport last month, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating said today, ending the criminal investigation into the mysterious and horrific death of the North Carolina teenager.
The body of the 16-year-old Charlotte, NC, high school student was found Nov. 15 on Brierbrook Street, a quiet upscale subdivision in Milton -- which also lies underneath the flight path aircraft sometimes use to arrive at Logan Airport.
It appears more likely than not that Mr. Tisdale was able to breach airport security and hide in the wheel well of a commercial jet airliner without being detected by airport security, Keating said, calling it a major breach of airport security.
Milton Police Chief Richard Wells Jr. suggested to reporters last month that Tisdale appeared to be the victim of a vicious killer who not only took his life but also mutilated his body. But Keating said today that Tisdale suffered the massive injuries suffered by the slightly built teen came from him slamming into the street, and that residents heard a crashing noise around 9:30 pm.
Keating said State pollice searched two aircraft flown from Charlotte, NC on Nov. 15. He said they found evidence handprints and fingerprints were found in the left wheel well of one of the aircraft.
He said he notified federal officials today that there Tisdale somehow managed to breach security at the Charlotte airport. "He somehow was able to hide himself in the left wheel well of that commercial jetliner,' Keating said.
Keating said the teen's injury were "consistent'' with falling from a height. He said Tisdale appears to have boarded a Boeing 737 in Charlotte's airport around 7 p.m. on Nov. 15. He said Brierbrook street is in the "direct'' path used by aircraft.
Initially, not only was Tisdale's death a shocking example of inhuman brutality, it was also a mystery because the teen had no identification on his body when found -- except for what appeared to be a hall pass from a high school.
Officials spent days trying to learn if the teen had been reported missing in Massachusetts, but eventually learned from a relative about Tisdale's disappearance that that Tisdale was last seen by his father, Anthony Tisdale, in North Carolina on Nov. 14 around 11:30 p.m.
Once they confirmed his identity, investigators still had to discover how the teen -- who had relatives in Baltimore and a sometimes strained relationship with his father -- traveled 900 miles in less than 24 hours. Keating said that mystery has now been solved.
Keating held the press conference just hours after Milton police, joined by officers from other departments, found clothing in a wooded area about a half mile from where Tisdale's body had been found. One of the items found was a red jacket with white stripes.
Last month, police recovered two cars that neighbors saw speeding away from the area the night Tisdale's body was found. One of the vehicles was linked to a Curry College student, who has retained an attorney, but news reports have suggested there is no connection with Tisdale's death.
Keating said blood and human tissue was found on the vehicles, but there was no evidence that the drivers had driven over Tisdale's remains.
Today, Milton police distributed flyers to residents informing them that a search had been conducted. Residents said police also visited the street Thursday to say that a search would begin early this morning.
A Brierbrook resident who declined to give her name said she saw about 35 officers outside her home this morning. She said she hoped the findings today would help the Tisdale family learn what happened.
"It sounds like they have some closure, so I'm happy for that family," she said. "And I'm sad for that family."
She said police "did the right thing and found some items" that apparently belonged to Tisdale.
Resident Mario Susi said he was not home during the search but that he welcomed the news of the three recovered items.
"It's good, I guess," he said, adding that he believed neighbors "kind of thought (the case) was over and done with, but who knows?"
Another resident of the street, who would only give his name as Simon S., said he saw police walking "all over" the neighborhood today.
Asked if he thought the search was a positive development in the case, he said, "absolutely. Got to keep the neighborhood safe."