TeNiya Nora Jones, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Kentucky went missing in Isreal the evening of July 28th, according to a press release sent out by the University’s president, Eli Capiloto.
Jones, a biology major minoring in Islamic Studies, enrolled in a seven-week exchange program out of Jordon and had only one week until her return when she vanished.
The press release, as well as a campus-wide email, was made available to all students at the University of Kentucky after TeNiya’s family had been reached and informed of Jones’ missing person status.
Our thoughts and prayers are with TeNiya, her family and the students and others impacted. We are in continual contact with TeNiya’s family, officials in Israel, officials from the State Department and our Congressional delegation, to provide all the support we can for the family, students and others involved.
We will do everything possible to provide whatever support is needed.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jones, With Two Other Students, Took a Weekend Trip to Israel Where They Decided to Take a Night Swim in The Mediterranean Sea
Jones was one of nine students studying in Jordon on an exchange program. Seven of those students are from the UK and two from the US.
Four of those students were in Tel Aviv the night she went missing, some stayed behind in the hotel and two went along. Jones was with a 20-year-old woman who is also a student at the University of Kentucky and a 21-year-old man attending West Virginia University.
According to one of the students accompanying Jones, a strong current pulled the three of them out into the sea while they were swimming. The two students made it back to shore, but Jones was nowhere to be found.
2. Jones’ Mother Already Lost One Child to Gun Violence in December
Jones’ brother, Samuel Jones Jr., was shot and killed in a double homicide in Lehigh Acres when he was 22-years-old. According to a local news station, Jones was hanging at a friends house December 2017 when gunmen opened fire, killing him and another young man by the name of Eric Young.
TeNiya and Samuel have a three-year-old baby sister named Naomi Ruth Mora.
Jones sent their mother Tosha Thomas-Mora a text shortly before she left for the beach Saturday evening, saying she was “in for the night,” USA Today reported.
After the other two students had come to shore and realized Jones was missing, they contacted Israeli officials, then the program coordinator for the Council on International Exchange (CIEE). A CIEE official contacted Jones’ mother.
Bill Bull, the vice president of Health and Safety at the CIEE, left her a voicemail.
“I wish to talk to you about what’s happening in Tel Aviv and give you some updates,” said Bull.
“Right now there’s concern that your daughter went out swimming and has not yet returned and it’s been about two and a half hours. Search and rescue is looking for her and the U.S. Embassy is involved.”
The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv called Thomas-Mora to assure her that Israeli police weren’t going to give up in their search for Jones.
3. There Are Reports That Jones’ Body Was Found on The Shore of Tel Aviv Early This Morning
The Times of Israel reported that “the bodies of a man and a woman who went missing Saturday in the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean respectively were found by authorities this morning.”
A 19-year-old American tourist disappeared off a beach at the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam on Saturday. She had entered the water with two friends and was pulled in by currents. Rescue forces, including divers, had been scouring the coast ever since. Her body washed up in Tel Aviv early Monday.
The body of a 21-year-old man from the Arab city of Arrabeh was found near the southern tip of Galilee early this morning near the spot authorities claim to have found Jones’ body. Israeli police say he entered the water on an inflatable raft along with two others on Saturday evening, and the three were pulled away from the shore by currents.
One young man was able to swim back to Berniki Beach and the other was rescued by police.
It is unclear whether or not the man whose body was recovered was a part of Jones’ group.
4. Jones Had Just Been Accepted Into The University of Kentucky’s Premedical Program
Jones’ exceptional GPA, hard work and determination, made her a great applicant for the University of Kentucky’s premedical program, which she was accepted into and going to start next month.
“She was supposed to start on August 23,” Thomas-Mora said through tears.
“She worked her (butt) off. She’s really mature for her age. She realized falling down and getting back up is a part of success,” said Jones’ mother in an interview with channel WHAS11 News.
Jones had been a star athlete at Fort Myers’ Dunbar High School, where she won the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdle events and county and district titles before taking silver at regionals.
As a high school sophomore, Jones won the gold for 300-meter hurdles at a regional championship before tearing her ACL.
Thomas-Mora says her daughter is a “decent swimmer,” but that she’s never actually seen her daughter go in further than her knees. “I’ve known her to stand and wade at the shore of the water and take pictures.”
50 of Jones’ relatives joined Thomas-Mora at her home on Sunday, wondering whether or not to believe the reports.
“It’s not like her,” Davis said. “She wouldn’t take a risk like that.”
As soon as Jones’ family was given the news that she was missing, Education Abroad officials from the University of Kentucky contacted Thomas-Mora to let her know travel arrangements were being made for her and another person to travel to Israel.
Thomas-Mora and her father (Jones’ grandfather) met with officials early this morning.
Sue Roberts, who leads the University of Kentucky’s International Center which houses the Education Abroad and Exchange programs, also traveled to Israel to meet with Jones’ family and the authorities involved in the rescue mission.
5. Jones’ Friends And Family React on Twitter
Jones’ cousin reached out for help in a tweet posted Sunday. He didn’t believe his cousin would go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, but he wanted leads, like everyone else.
“This is very unusual. It appears to be a really bad accident that has occurred,” UK spokesperson Jay Blanton told WKYT News.
“So many in Kentucky were hoping this Wildcat would come home safely,” reported WKYT.
This is a developing story.