The mother of a 19-year-old Chicago girl is speaking out against police after her daughter was found dead inside the walk-in freezer at a hotel.
Kenneka Jenkins was found unresponsive by hotel staff hours after she was reported missing by her sister. Police say Jenkins was attending a hotel party and was intoxicated when she found her way into the freezer and died.
An autopsy performed after her death to determine the cause and manner came up inconclusive pending further investigation, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said. A spokesperson said the final results likely wouldn’t be available for “several weeks.”
In the meantime, Rosemont police classified Jenkins’ death as a noncriminal incident and the investigation continues. Police have said there is no obvious evidence to conclude that foul play was a factor.
But Jenkins’ mother, Tereasa Martin, has remained adamant that foul play was indeed involved in her daughter’s tragic death.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jenkins Was Found Dead After Splitting up With Friends at a Hotel
Jenkins was found inside a walk-in freezer in the basement of the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center in Rosemont at 12:48 p.m. on September 10, the Chicago Tribune reported. The hotel is located about 30 minutes northwest of Chicago.
Police said they found Jenkins inside the freezer and attempted to resuscitate her, but it was to no avail. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities say that the freezer was indeed on and cold, but it wasn’t being used to store food a the time.
The last time Jenkins was heard from by anyone was via a 1:30 a.m. Saturday text message to her sister.
Martin found out about her daughter’s death via a phone call from one of her friends who was at the hotel party. Community activist Andrew Holmes told the Chicago Sun Times that friend contacted Martin at around 4 a.m., telling her they were unable to find her.
Martin arrived at the hotel about one hour later and filed a police report. The last place Jenkins was seen was at the ninth floor of the hotel at the party. Police have maintained that Jenkins was intoxicated and let her self into the freezer.
2. Martin Says Her Daughter Was Murdered & Has Been Critical of Police
Since Jenkins’ death, Martin has spoken out saying she thinks she was murdered. She said the last time she saw her was at 11:30 p.m. on September 8 when she left their home with a group of friends.
According to Martin, Jenkins was going to celebrate getting a new position at a nursing home. That was the last time she’d see her daughter alive.
“(I’m) horrified,” Martin said to reporters September 10. “It’s something that no one could ever imagine. It’s unbelievable.”
During another interview with The Chicago Tribune, Martin went off on the Rosemont Police Department’s handling of Jenkins’ death. She said authorities wouldn’t let her see her body until a few hours later and initially refused to give her their badge numbers.
“After they declared she was dead, when I started asking can I see my baby baby body, and they first denied me,” Martin said. “And I asked them for the detective name and sergeant name… When I asked the sergeant for his badge number, he said, ‘I gotta talk to the morgue.'”
“I said, can I see how my baby lying down there and how she died? And they wouldn’t let me see my baby. They told me she was dead around 1 a.m. but they didn’t let me see her body until four hours later.”
“We were forbidden to come back into the hotel,” Martin said. “So we’re (out there) begging for help, and the police department couldn’t even help us. After they found my baby dead, they couldn’t even help us. Them bastards! They couldn’t even help us!”
3. Police Said They’d Show Martin the Surveillance Video
On September 14, Rosemont Police spokesman Gary Mack said that Martin would be shown surveillance footage from the night her daughter died inside the freezer.
According to police, the video shows Jenkins, appearing intoxicated near a hotel desk, eventually opening the freezer door herself and walking into it alone.
“We want to be as understanding as we can with the family, particularly the mother,” Mack said to the Chicago Sun Times.
Holmes told the Chicago Tribune that he was shown the video by detectives and it shows Jenkins waiting in the lobby. At one point, Jenkins takes an elevator to a lower level where she wanders around and opens doors “in an apparently disoriented manner,” he claims.
Jenkins then opens two doors to the freezer in the kitchen area and they close behind her.
“It was just an accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Investigators are reportedly still in the process of combing over 30 hours of surveillance footage collected from the 47 cameras inside the hotel, they said in a statement.
4. Martin & Family Members Have Led Protests Outside the Hotel
In the days that have followed Jenkins’ death investigation, Martin and other family members have led the community in various protests. Groups of people gathered outside of the hotel holding sighs and criticizing authorities for their handling of the death investigation.
On September 13, Martin and the community activists expressed their frustration with the pace of the investigation.
“Justice for Kenneka!” was one of the many things chanted at the protest. Participants also yelled at hotel guests and encouraged them to boycott the location.
“Are you really comfortable giving them your money when a 19-year-old was found dead in the freezer?” one woman said to a passing guest, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Police were on scene guarding several entrances and stopped people from entering the building.
5. Martin Says There’s No Way Her Daughter Could Open up the Door by Herself
Martin, who works at a cafeteria on and lives on Chicago’s west side, said she uses similar “double-deep freezers” at her job and claims there’s no possible way her daughter could open the door by herself.
“I know in the deep freezer at my job, you have to have some strength to yank the doors open,” she said. “Now, mind you, they said she could barely hold herself up, let alone open a door. And the police department said, ‘Freak accidents like that do happen.’”
Martin continued that if Jenkins was as intoxicated as police said she was, finding her way into the freezer is impossible.
“It takes strength to open these doors,” she said to reporters September 11. “So if she could barely hold herself up — she needed the wall to support her — how did she find strength to unlock both the double doors?”
The hashtag #JusticeForKenneka has been a frequent trending term on Twitter ever since her death.