KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Mother demands murder charges after son found shot to death, burned near Trolley Trail
Chase Hardin's burned body was found dumped in some woods off the Trolley Track Trail at 86th and Woodland on May 29.
Hardin's mother, Brenda, says he was murdered on May 25, and demands that investigators take a closer look.
"When I touched Chase's casket, I swore to him that I would make sure everything was made right," Brenda said through tears.
On Saturday, Brenda and her supporters gathered outside a boarded-up home at 23rd & Lawndale, a house she says spelled out Chase's death on that spring day.
Brenda says she lives every day knowing in her heart there is more to Hardin's death than investigators claim.
The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office has charged a man named Steven Stuart only with abandoning Hardin's body and being a felon in possession of a gun.
"I miss my Chase. I miss him so much," Brenda said.
Her and Chase were best friends, she said. He was her baby, and she doted on him. Not only because of his "infectious" laugh, also because he had dealt with some mental health issues since he was a child. But Brenda says his struggles didn't stop him from being the caring person he was.
"He would be there for everyone and anyone," Brenda said.
A friend, Tommy Sommers, says the community lost a great man.
"I can't begin to tell how great of a person Chase was," said Sommers.
On May 25, Brenda says Hardin went to the house on Lawndale to retrieve his friend's stolen truck, though court records say Hardin was coming to buy the truck from Stuart.
According to police, a witness saw Hardin leaving the house, riding in the rear passenger seat of a white truck, with Stuart riding in the front passenger seat, and an unnamed woman driving.
That woman asked for a lawyer and will not cooperate with police.
"She's walking around free among us," Brenda said.
According to the court documents, Stuart told police they were riding around doing meth, and then Hardin got angry, demanded the keys to the truck and pulled out a gun.
The documents say Stuart claims he shot Hardin in self-defense.
Investigators say the woman called people to get rid of Hardin's body, drove around with his body trying to decide what to do. They left his body in the truck overnight.
Stuart told police "unknown" men took the truck with Hardin's body to dispose of it. They allegedly returned days later with the truck and Hardin's body wasn't inside it anymore.
Stuart says he threw the gun in a river, but doesn't remember which one, and then they sold the truck.
That truck was involved in a police chase the next month. Police found a large amount of blood in the front and back passenger side of the truck.
"Ripped my heart out," Brenda said. "Chase never carried a gun. Never. Never. Ask anybody that knows him."
Sommers says the same. "Chase didn't carry guns. He carried impact wrenches and tires."
Hardin was a tow truck driver, though he had ambitions to follow in his grandfather's steps to become a legendary car racer.
Police reports say Hardin's death was a homicide. His autopsy report says the same.
The autopsy says Hardin was shot in the head and neck.
"I was outraged. I was breathless. I couldn't speak," Brenda said.
The autopsy also shows a large amount of meth was in Hardin's system. His body showed acute methamphetamine intoxication.
Brenda firmly believes her son didn't die of an overdose.
He had problems with drugs in the past, but his friends say he kicked the habit and was working on making his life and his kids' lives better.
"I want justice for Chase. I know it's not going to bring him back, but his voice is going to be heard," Brenda said.
Stuart is also facing charges in a triple shooting at the house on Lawndale the same day Hardin was killed.