A 19-year-old woman was found dead in a hotel freezer Sunday, more than 20 hours after she went missing following a party in one the rooms at a suburban Chicago hotel, authorities say, and many questions are being raised about how she died and what happened before her death.
Kenneka Jenkins, who lived on Chicago’s West Side, was found about 12:48 a.m. on September 10 in a walk-in freezer at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center in Rosemont, the Chicago Tribune reports. “Jenkins was beyond resuscitation and was pronounced dead on the scene,” Rosemont Police said in a statement. The freezer was on and cold, but was not being used to store food, authorities said.
While police are continuing to investigate her death, and initially said Jenkins went into the freezer on her own, the woman’s mother believes foul play was involved and the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death have led many on social media to speculate that she was killed, possibly after being raped, before being left in the freezer. #KennekaJenkins has trended on Twitter throughout the day Monday as social media sleuths unpack multiple layers of claims about what possibly happened. Police have released few details about the case, adding to the speculation and theories.
“I believe someone in this hotel killed my child,” Jenkins’ mother, Teresa Martin, told WGN-TV.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jenkins Was Seen on Video ‘Staggering’ in the Hotel Lobby & Was Then Found Dead in the Freezer in an Area Under Construction
Kenneka Jenkins left her home in the 2100 block of West Warren Boulevard in Chicago about 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 9, to go to a party at the Rosemont Crowne Plaza hotel with her friends, her mother told the Chicago Tribune. She last spoke to her sister about 1:30 a.m. Witnesses told police she had been seen at a party on the ninth floor of the hotel, Gary Mack, a spokesperson for the village of Rosemont, told the newspaper.
Jenkins, who graduated from the Community Christian Alternative Academy, a Chicago charter school, recently got a job at a nursing home and was out celebrating, her family told WGN-TV.
About 4 a.m. Saturday, Jenkins’ friends became concerned after they lost track of her and were not able to find her, the Tribune reports. The friends told Jenkins’ mother, Teresa Martin, that they were in the car Martin had lent Jenkins for the night and had her cell phone. Martin went to the hotel about 5 a.m. Saturday to help find her daughter, according to the Tribune. Martin told the newspaper that she asked the hotel staff to look at video surveillance, but was told they needed a missing persons report to do that. Martin then said Rosemont Police told her to wait a few hours before filing a report to see if Jenkins turned up, she told the newspaper.
“We were begging for help, and no one was helping,” Martin told reporters Sunday.
A missing persons report was then filed with the Rosemont Police by Jenkins’ older sister later Saturday morning and authorities notified the hotel that they were looking for her about 1:15 p.m. “The hotel staff and management (were) actively canvassing the area at that time,” Mack told the newspaper. They looked at hotel video footage about 3 or 4 p.m. Saturday, but did not see Jenkins, according to Martin. Then, at about 6 p.m., the family returned to the hotel and began knocking on room doors to see if gusts knew anything, Martin said. The hotel called police to complain about the knocking and a responding officer felt bad for the family and agreed to watch the video footage again, the Tribune reports.
During that second viewing of the video, the family saw Jenkins “staggering” drunk near the hotel’s front desk. The video was from 3:20 a.m. Saturday and the family discovered it about 10 p.m. that night. They remained at the hotel, and about 1 a.m., police told them the teen’s body had been found in the walk-in freezer in a construction area, the newspaper reports.
“I just happen to know there’s work being done on some new facilities over there, so there is some construction activity where a new restaurant is being built, and (she was found) in that vicinity,” Mack told the newspaper. “This is not an area where anyone would typically be who was a guest in the hotel.”
2. Her Mother & Sister Doubt Claims Her Daughter Went Into the Freezer on Her Own, Saying She Wouldn’t Have Been Strong Enough to Open the Door
Teresa Martin told reporters outside of the Rosemont Police Department that she does not believe claims from police that her daughter went into the freezer on her own while drunk. She said if her daughter was that intoxicated, she would have struggled to open the heavy doors to the walk-in freezer.
“Those were double steel doors, she didn’t just pop them open,” Martin told the Chicago Tribune.
“She was so drunk, that was his exact words, she was so drunk she couldn’t hold herself up. She was holding on to the wall,” Martin told WGN-TV.
Jenkins’ sister, Leonore Harris, who filed the missing persons report and helped in the search, told the news station, “The freezer door is heavy. So there’s no way. If they’re saying she’s drunk, she don’t have no strength. If she had enough strength to open that freezer door, she would have had enough strength to walk straight.”
Martin also said she was angry and disappointed in the lack of urgency shown by the hotel staff and police.
“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.
Martin is also questioning the details of what led up to her daughter’s disappearance. She said the stories told by her daughters’ two friends have changed multiple times, according to the Tribune. She said their “stories changed over and over.”
Jenkins told her mother they would be “going to the show and bowling” Friday. Her mother said she only learned about the hotel party when her friends called and said they couldn’t find Jenkins and were heading home with her car. Her friends said the three of them were going to leave the party when they realized Jenkins left her phone and car keys in the room, Martin told the newspaper. The friends told Martin that Jenkins stayed in the hotel hallway while her friends went to get her stuff, according to the newspaper. When they came back, they said Jenkins was gone, Martin said.
“My goal is to find out exactly what happened to my daughter,” Martin told WGN-TV. “I think that someone knew it was an inside job. Someone knew what was going on.”
3. A Video Showing Her at the Party, Possibly Crying for Help, Has Sparked Numerous Theories About Her Death From Social Media Users
Jenkins death has sparked many social media theories about what happened. A video posted to Facebook by one of her friends, Monifah Shelton, which you can watch above, has added to the mystery surrounding the case and the speculation. At one point in the video, which you can watch in full above, a high-pitched sound can be heard, which some are speculating was Jenkins screaming for help as she was being sexually assaulted or otherwise injured by others at the party. The video is a Facebook Live video posted by a woman who appears to be an employee of the hotel, according to many social media users who have been investigating Jenkins’ death. You can watch the moment of the video where the possible scream is heard below:
The woman seen in the video, identified as Irene Roberts by Jenkins’ friend, has deleted her Facebook profile. Social media users have also identified several men believed to have been at the party. Police have not commented about the theories about Jenkins’ disappearance. Dozens of YouTube videos with theories have been posted in the past day. Another video was uploaded claiming that Irene Roberts had gone to a police station to be interviewed:
Members of Jenkins family are also rallying to call for answers about what happened to her. They held a #JusticeforKenneka protest Monday night. One of Jenkins’ family members wrote on Facebook, “One of you lil bitches did something to my sister,” according to Buzzfeed News, which saved a screenshot of the now-deleted post.
“I have an idea that something might have happened,” Jenkins’ mother told NBC Chicago on Monday. “I believe it was foul play involved.”
Andrew Holmes, a local activist working with the family, told the news station they are examining the video that has been posted to social media, “You can see some images in the other young lady’s glasses and you can also hear some of the background that’s in there. And the young lady with the glasses, she needs to come forward too, cause everyone in there is a suspect—it’s just as a simple as that.”
Jenkins sister, Leonore Harris, said the family will continue to push for answers.
“If it weren’t for us studying, pushing to find out what happened, my sister’s life would still be in that freezer right now,” Harris told reporters. “I had all the hope in the world that she would just come back. Maybe there was something wrong, but I asked God, not death. He let me down. He let me down.”
4. Her Friend, Monifah Shelton, Says Jenkins Didn’t ‘Deserve’ What Happened & She ‘Didn’t Have Her Back’
“Everybody Kno our bond was tight ???she was the sweet friend ?I was the mean friend ? Mfs Kno I didn’t play about her & she didn’t play about me ????? I’m so sorry this happen to u u didn’t deserve it u ?? I’m missing tf outta u #Sister4Life,” she wrote Sunday morning.
Before Jenkins was found Sheltn wrote, “Everybody on here talking just pointing fingers just pray she okay and make it home ??”
She also said, “It hurt so bad knowing I didn’t have your back kenneka man. … ‘m sorry g I just feel like it’s my fault bro I’m yo bestfriend I suppose to had u I Kno u would of had me it hurting me so bad right now u got me Cryin man please be okay bro god just warp your arms around her guide her ??home.”
Shelton also posted another video showing her in the hotel with Jenkins:
After Jenkins’ body was found in the freezer, she wrote that she was helping in the search for Jenkins and the investigation.
“On kewan grave this shit blowin me when I saw kenneka wasn’t behide me we got the lookin everybody in that hotel room was laughing didn’t nobody bother to get tf up and help us I look for her to the top floor to the bottom I was knocking on mfs door rooms I look where the car was at & everything for y’all to sit on here and keep saying shit we Kno fucked up we was drunk wtf yall staying sayin it’s our fault like that shit so fuckin lame man den y’all wanna switch the story around I’m waiting to talk to the police if a mf knew some I would of said some I told her mom who all was there who the boys was & everything y’all steady blaming mfs,” she wrote.
Shelton has not posted on Facebook since Sunday morning, when she shared a photo with Jenkins. Her Facebook posts have been flooded with comments by those who are discussing her friend’s disappearance, including many who claim she set up Jenkins by taking her to the party. She is friends with the woman seen in the Facebook Live video.
In one of her posts on Saturday, she wrote about those who were posting on her page, saying, “Can y’all please leave me alone bro we been bestfriend since 3rd grade we did everything together literally everything we use to call ourself the nene twins ??? we slept together ate together broke bread together that was my ace ??it hurting me I never thought I was be doin this we suppose to be takin trips we had shit planned out I’m so sorry g ??♀️ we sisters for life.”
In another post she said, “G she my bestfriend why would I do anything to harm her man ?just please leave me alone please.”
Police said they plan to interview those seen in the video posted by Shelton, and will follow other leads. Andrew Holmes, the activist working with Jenkins’ family, told NBC Chicago that they hope those who were in the room come forward.
“Best friend, no friend, you’re a suspect, you was in there, just come forward,” Holmes said. “You was happy enough to put yourself on Facebook, now be happy enough to come over here and tell these detectives what happened.”
“Everyone that was in that room should march down to the police department. Somebody inside that room knows what happened,” Holmes told WGN.
5. An Autopsy Was Conducted to Determine How Jenkins Died, but Authorities Have Not Released Those Results
An autopsy was conducted Sunday to determine the cause and manner of Jenkins’ death, but those results have not been made public by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. They are awaiting toxicology results and for other testing to be completed, the medical examiner’s office said. Police have not been willing to say if there were any signs of trauma to Jenkins’ body when she was found, nor have they revealed any other details about the condition she was in. They have also declined to say who found the body, saying that is part of the investigation.
Police have not said if they believe foul play is involved in the case, but Gary Mack, a spokesperson for Rosemont, told the Chicago Tribune that people should have faith in the police probe, despite questions about their response being raised by Jenkins’ mother and members of the public.
“Anyone can understand how a parent can feel distraught over the loss of a child and feel the need to lash out due to the tremendous pain they’re feeling, and we can certainly understand that,” Mack told the Tribune. “But people can rest assured Rosemont is one of the top, highest trained, most respected police departments in the state of Illinois and does a good job at what they do. Every situation has a lot of variables, and certainly this one did. The hotel has probably never seen anything like this, either, I would imagine.”
Mack said investigators would be looking at video surveillance from the hotel to piece together what happened.
Mack said nothing has been ruled in or out.
“The key here is the autopsy report,” he told Buzzfeed News. “I’m sure the police are looking at every conceivable avenue to get to the bottom of this.”
Police also said they are looking into many of the claims being made on Twitter and Facebook.
“Our detectives are looking into everything and are aware of the social media video and posts,” Detective Joe Balogh told BuzzFeed News.
Mack told the Chicago Tribune on Monday about the Facebook Live video, “Yes, they’ve looked at it and continue to look at it and all the other social media videos and posts. They are leaving no stone unturned as far as trying to corral everyone they can and talk to them and interview them about what happened and what was going on that night.”
Mack said police are used to the social media firestorm that a high-profile case can bring, telling the Tribune, “In law enforcement this kind of social media has become king, so everybody with a camera is a reporter now, and they’re just taking it in stride as best they can.”
The hotel issued a statement saying, “We are saddened by this news, and our thoughts are with the young woman and her family during this difficult time. The hotel staff will continue to cooperate fully with local authorities. All further questions should be directed to the Rosemont Police Department.”
A Change.org petition calling for the state of Illinois to shut down the Rosemont Crowne Plaza has received more than 54,000 signatures.
“Kenneka Jenkins, 19, was pronouced (sic) dead early Sept. 10, 2017 after having been found at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Rosemont. Mother of victim went to hotel to identify her child and was refused to let her inside and employees of the hotel asked her to leave the premises,” wrote Jocee Avila, who started the petition. “Cameras are not being shown to (victim’s) family, Of how the victim got to the freezer, when a camera is across the freezer . And claiming the cameras were Shut down due to maintenance. This petition Goal is to Get Crowne plaza hotel (shut) down and get justice for Kenneka.”
Jenkins family was left mourning her and fighting for answers on Monday.
“It’s something that no one could ever imagine. It’s unbelievable,” Martin told WLS-TV.
“My sister was my backbone. My kids’ father passed three years ago,” her sister, Leonore Harris, told WGN-TV. “When I used to break down and cry and want to give up, she would tell me she’s got my back.”
Jenkins planned to go to college and dreamed of becoming a lawyer, her sister told the news station.
“Your whole life just gone,” Harris said. “You think she’s going to a party and she’s just gone. I wish it could have been me and not my sister.”