While ESSENCE continues to gather details surrounding the Chicago teen's death, here's everything we know so far.
What the world knows about the death of Chicago teenager Kenneka Jenkins doesn’t paint a full story — the 19-year-old went to a party with friends around 11:30 p.m. Friday and was found dead in a suburban hotel freezer after midnight on Sunday.
Between those hours, friends of the teenager called her mother to report her missing. Staff at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center claimed that a missing persons report would need to be filed before her family reviewed surveillance video of the property. Her mother, Tereasa Martin, was told to wait before filing the report just in case the teen turned up. And nearly 24 hours later, Jenkins’ was pronounced dead by the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
While police are mum about the investigation, her mother and sister suspect foul play. “I believe someone in this hotel killed my child,” Martin told WGN.
The medical examiner’s office did confirm that an autopsy was performed on Jenkins. “The only information I can provide at this time is that an autopsy was performed and that the cause and manner of death is pending further studies and the ongoing investigation,” Becky Schlikerman, spokesperson from the medical examiner’s office told ESSENCE.
But on the internet — in Facebook pages, on petitions and Twitter timelines — the story of how Kenneka Jenkins ended up in a freezer are more menacing, disturbing. Many suspect her friends left her to be assaulted and violated by a group of men. There are whispers of trafficking, money and rape. And the conspiracies are getting louder — on Tuesday morning, news that police were reviewing a now-viral Facebook live video that appears to show Jenkins and her friends in a hotel room only fanned the flames.
ESSENCE was unable to confirm if the video in question is connected to the disappearance of the teen. Rosemont Police have yet to respond to a request from ESSENCE to comment on the ongoing investigation.
With little detail, it’s hard to say what happened to Kenneka Jenkins. And while police have yet to retract their belief that the teen, who they say was inebriated, stumbled into the freezer and died, the calls for a thorough investigation are getting louder.
Here’s what we know so far about Kenneka Jenkins’ case.
Kenneka Jenkins went out with two friends Friday night, but did not tell her mom about the hotel party:
Tereasa Martin, Jenkins’ mother, told the Chicago Tribune that she last saw her daughter at their West Side home around 11:30 p.m. Friday before she left to hang with friends. Initially, Jenkins told her mother she was going bowling. Around 4:00 a.m., the friends called Martin to explain that they went to a hotel party in the suburb of Rosemont, but couldn’t find Jenkins when it was time to leave. An hour later, Martin arrived at the hotel to look for her daughter, but was told she would have to file a missing persons report before she could view surveillance tapes.
Her friends were in possession of her car and cell phone after she disappeared:
When Jenkins’ friends called Martin, they were in the car her daughter borrowed from her that night. They also had her cell phone. According to the Tribune, the two girls said she was last seen on the ninth floor of the hotel. They told Martin that while they were preparing to leave the party, they realized Jenkins left her phone and car keys in the room. Leaving Jenkins in the hallway, the friends when back to get her items. When they returned, she was gone.
The friends “stories changed over and over:”
Martin also expressed some doubt over the accounts, telling the Tribune that their stories “changed over and over.”
Jenkins’ sister, Leonore Harris, filed the missing persons report:
After some delay, the family was finally allowed to file a missing persons report late Saturday morning. Around 1:15 p.m., a search for the teenager commenced. She was found at 12:48 a.m. in the freezer, which reportedly was in a construction area of the hotel.
Harris may also be the last person to speak with Jenkins — she had contact with her sister around 1:30 a.m. Saturday.
Police reportedly saw Jenkins “staggering” on surveillance video:
Police told the teen’s family that they spotted her on surveillance video from the hotel “staggering” near the front desk around 3:20 a.m. Saturday. According to reports, the police initially believed she went into the freezer by herself.
Jenkins’ family does not believe she opened the freezer by herself:
Police told Martin that her daughter went into the freezer alone. But the mother is having a hard time believing that’s true, telling the Tribune that her daughter, if drunk, would have had trouble opening the heavy freezer doors by herself. Harris echoed that sentiment in an interview with CBS Chicago: “The freezer door is heavy. I worked in a cafeteria before. It’s no way if she’s drunk, and they saying she’s stumbling, so she don’t have no strength. That’s my baby sister. How can I live life knowing I’ll never see her again?”
Martin believes the police stalled in searching for her daughter:
“If they had taken me seriously and checked right away, they could have found my daughter much sooner and she might have been alive,” Martin told the Tribune.
In a statement to ESSENCE, Natalie Wilson, co-founder of Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. highlighted the difficulties Black parents often face in rallying law enforcement to search for missing Black children and teens:
“Kenneka Jenkins’ case brings to light the difficulties families experience in getting authorities to take our missing persons cases seriously and to respond in a timely manner,” she wrote. “This pattern of a lack of concern for families and victims continues to reflect that our women and girls are devalued.”
We still don’t know how Jenkins died:
Though Jenkins was found in a cold freezer, it still isn’t clear if she died from hypothermia, foul play or something else entirely. “It will likely take several weeks for a cause and manner of death to be determined,” Schlikerman told ESSENCE.
Police are investigating a video posted to Facebook that may lend insight into what happened:
Police confirmed Tuesday that they were investigating a video posted by one of Jenkins friends on Facebook. The video, which has since been viewed millions of times, appears to show Jenkins and others in the hotel in the hours before her disappearance. According to Rosemont spokesman Gary Mack, police have identified most of the people in the video, which shows a woman in glasses, speaking to the camera. In the reflection of her glasses, you can see part of the hotel room, where Jenkins is apparently sitting.
ESSENCE, however, has not been able to confirm the identities of those in the video. In an interview with ESSENCE, Mack said that while police have identified several people, “they are still trying to get information from others” at the party.
Jenkins’ death is not being considered a homicide as of Tuesday afternoon:
Mack told ESSENCE that while the inquiry into the teen’s death is garnering the “highest attention,” the status is still a “death investigation.”
“Since there is no hard evidence pointing in the direction of foul play or homicide, it is still being considered a death investigation,” he said. “Everything is on the table.”
We will keep you updated on the ongoing investigation as details surrounding Kenneka Jenkins death become available.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the medical examiner’s office refused to release details of the autopsy report to ESSENCE. The report is not yet complete as the case is still under investigation.
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