- Stephanie Toone The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
This story has been updated to reflect new details in the Kenneka Jenkins case.
The mysterious death of Kenneka Jenkins, 19, who was found dead in the freezer of a suburban hotel, has sparked national outcry and questions about the circumstances surrounding her death.
The teenager left her home for a party Sept. 8, according to the Chicago Tribune. After her mother, Tereasa Martin, demanded hotel staff search for her daughter, Jenkins body was found in the hotel freezer of Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare Hotel & Conference Center in Rosemont, Illinois.
Here is everything we know so far about the tragic death of Kenneka Jenkins.
1. Autopsy results released in early October determined that Kenneka Jenkins death was an accident.
Cook County medical examiner’s office has determined the cause of Kenneka Jenkins’ death at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Sept. 10, the Chicago Tribune reported.The 19-year-old died from hypothermia due to exposure in the hotel’s walk-in freezer, according to the results released Friday. The freezer Jenkins was found in was capable of getting to a temperature of 8 degrees, the medical examiner's office noted.
In addition to freezing exposure, alcohol intoxication and the use of topiramate, a drug known for treating epilepsy and migraines were “contributing factors.” Her family said Jenkins had not been prescribed topiramate, but the level of the drug was within therapuetic range.
The office also found mucosal erosions, a type of lesion, that indicated Jenkins had suffered from hypothermia and an abrasion on her right ankle. The autopsy results showed her brain was swollen, but that finding does not indicate a specific cause of death, according to the autopsy.
Her blood alcohol level was 0.112, higher than the legal limit of 0.08 for legally driving. The alcohol and the drug can enhance each other, the office said.
Last month, Jenkins’ mother was convinced that the delay in investigating her daughter’s death could have made a difference.
"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 said.
2. On Oct. 20, police confirmed the Jenkins case was closed and released graphic postmortem photos of Kenneka Jenkins, which a lawyer for Jenkins’ mother said ‘raise more questions.’
Rosemont Police announced late Friday that they have closed the investigation into Kenneka Jenkins’ death and determined it to be accidental, adding there is “no evidence that indicates any other conclusion,” according to the Tribune.
Still, lawyers for Jenkins’ mother say graphic police photographs taken after Jenkins’ body was found “raise more questions than answers.”
Police showed the photographs to Jenkins’ family on Thursday, and Sam Adam Jr., a lawyer for Jenkins’ mother Tereasa Martin, called them “graphic and disturbing images (that) inexplicably show portions of Kenneka’s body exposed.”
A release from Adam and Martin’s other attorney, Larry Rogers Jr., said the photos were “of a personal, private and indecent nature.”
According to Rosemont police reports, the 19-year-old was found on her side, face down, with her left arm underneath her, her right shoe off and a small cut on her right foot.
The photographs show that Jenkins was still wearing the jeans and jean jacket shown in surveillance videos of her walking through the hotel before her death, but the shirt beneath her jacket “was pulled up exposing her breasts,” a police report said.
“Frankly, the photos depicting how Kenneka was found raise more questions about what happened to Kenneka Jenkins than they answer,” Rogers said in the news release.
Scientists who have studied hypothermia have uncovered a phenomenon known as “paradoxical undressing,” where people freezing to death remove their clothes. That theory could explain the removed clothes.
“Our detective reported no signs of foul play throughout the whole investigation,” according to a statement from Police Chief Donald Stephens III. “There is no evidence that Ms. Jenkins was forced to drink alcohol or consume any narcotics while at the hotel.”
On Sept. 15, Police released Crown Plaza hotel footage of Jenkins apparently staggering through the hotel hallways, stumbling into a stairwell and, lastly, wandering into the hotel’s kitchen. The video footage, pieced together by the Chicago Tribune, can be found here. The video clips released do not show Jenkins entering the walk-in freezer where her body was found. However, the security video appears to be captured by a motion-activated camera, which did not display anyone coming into the area until her body was found.
3. Kenneka Jenkins’ funeral drew thousands of mourners from across the country.
Mourners gathered at Chicago’s House of Hope Saturday, expressing their deepest grief and fondest memories of the 19-year-old during the 2 ½-hour service.
Friends, relatives and complete strangers processioned pass Kenneka Jenkins open casket, which was surrounded by modest flower bouquets on either side. Her loved ones honored Jenkins during the service by donning purple or wearing tribute shirts that read “Justice for Kenneka.” Though little was revealed about Jenkins’ life during the funeral, a poignant poem read by her nieces touched on their relationship with her. “Every time I feel upset she makes me feel like a princess. Neka was so funny she would make me cry,” one of her nieces said during the service.
House of Hope pastor Rev. James Meeks comforted those in attendance and sought to keep the service protected from the media frenzy that has surrounded Jenkins’ death. His staff monitored social media throughout the service to ensure no one live-streamed.
More than 1,000 people attended the service, including those like Denise Mitchell, who did not know Jenkins but was moved by her mysterious death.
"We've been following this ever since it happened — crying, staying up late at night — it's heartbreaking. It feels like a relative," Mitchell told the Tribune.
4. According to CBS Chicago, there is no video of Kenneka Jenkins entering the hotel freezer, where her body was found.
According to a spokesperson for the Crowne Plaza Hotel, there is no footage available of Kenneka Jenkins walking into the hotel freezer, CBS Chicago reported Wednesday. The Rosemont, Illinois, hotel does not have a “video camera trained on the freezer,” where Jenkins body was found, the station reported. The video clips released show Jenkins roaming around the hotel for more than an hour.
5. On Oct. 6, Rosemont police announced though “no sign of foul play exists,” they are still investigating Jenkins’ death and looking for two individuals that checked in the hotel for the party.
One of the two people police are searching for is Shaniqua Watkins, who is wanted by police for theft or unauthorized use of a credit card and is being sought on four “active’’ arrest warrants, police said.
Police continue to identify others in attendance at the hotel room party. They’ve generated 127 related police reports and conducted 44 interviews, 36 of whom were people who were inside the hotel room. There are a few remaining, who are only known by “street names,’’ and police have not been able to locate them yet.
Four cellphones have been recovered from people at the party, including one that belonged to Jenkins, police said. A forensic examination of the cellphones was conducted and they are being analyzed by detectives. Video surveillance from the hotel was sent out to be “enhanced for further examination,’’ and police are waiting for access to a Facebook account, to examine a video ''in its native format,’’ police said.
Police said they are working with the Cook County fugitive task force to locate Watkins but if anyone knows where she is, they are urged to call police, 847-823-1134, ext. 373.
6. Tereasa Martin searched for her daughter for more than a day.
Kenneka Jenkins left her house around 11:30 p.m. Friday for a bowling party, according to what she told her mother. Jenkins friends called Tereasa Martin around 4 a.m. Sept. 9, to report they had not been able locate Jenkins. The friends left with Jenkins phone and in the car Martin lent her daughter for the night.
Martin said she headed to the hotel to search for her daughter at 5 a.m. Saturday, but without a missing persons report, hotel staff refused to search for Jenkins. It wasn’t until around 3 or 4 p.m. police began reviewing video footage that led to discovering Jenkins. Martin and her family visited the hotel three times Saturday to find her.
7. Her mother Tereasa Martin is contesting the police report that Kenneka walked herself into the freezer.
Martin has quesioned the validity of the police’s conclusion on her daughter’s death. If her daughter was drunk, she said, she would have had a hard time opening the freezer door on her own.
"Those were double steel doors, she didn't just pop them open," Martin said.
Martin was angry about what she said was hotel workers' lack of urgency in the face of her pleas for help finding her daughter Saturday morning, directing her to the police rather than immediately reviewing hotel footage. The unusual circumstances have ignited huge interest on social media with many observers blaming police and Jenkins’ friends.