It was the news story heard around the world: In September of 2017, a young Black woman’s body was found in a hotel walk-in freezer.
Her name was Kenneka Jenkins.
According to her mother, the 19-year-old Chicagoian went to the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois, to celebrate her new job. But what started out as an innocent fun with her friends, turned into a mysterious tragedy when local police found her dead days later in a hotel freezer.
Initially, Kenneka’s family believed the teen’s death was foul play, however Rosemont police believed otherwise. Authorities claimed that while intoxicated, Kenneka somehow stumbled into the freezer, locked herself in and later died of hypothermia.
Yet, these claims were strongly contested, not only by Kenneka’s mother, Tereasa Martin, but by local activists and friends who believed the police weren’t taking her death seriously because Kenneka was a young Black girl.
In addition to multiple protests outside the hotel, Kenneka’s death was also riddled with online conspiracy theories and internet sleuths trying to solve the case, some even claiming that Kenneka’s friends had something to do with her death.
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Yet in the end, the coroner ruled Kenneka’s death an accident, with police releasing a statement claiming there was no evidence of foul play.
While the case in Kenneka’s death remains closed, to this day, there are still people who still believe that she was murdered.
As we approach the first-year anniversary of Kenneka’s death on September 10, HelloBeautiful has laid out a timeline of the events that led up to her tragic passing and its aftermath:
September 8, 2017: Kenneka Jenkins left home around 11:30pm in a car she borrowed from her mother to go to the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. She was there with her friends to celebrate her new job.
September 9, 2017: Kenneka Jenkins’ sister claims she last spoke to her around 1:30 a.m. It’s believed that she is the last family member to speak with Kenneka before she went missing.
September 9, 2017: Tereasa Martin claims that her daughter’s friends, who were at the hotel with Kenneka, called Martin around 4:30am saying they had “lost track” of Kenneka at the hotel. Apparently, the friends were in the car Martin lent her daughter and had the teen’s cell phone with them.
September 9, 2017: Around 5am, Martin heads to the hotel to search for her daughter. According to Martin, the hotel staff informer her that in order for them to begin reviewing hotel security footage, she would have to file a missing person’s report with the police. Soon after, Jenkins older sister calls the Rosemont police to do just that.
September 9, 2017: Around 2pm, police began an 11-hour search of the hotel looking for Kenneka and share footage with her family that sadly doesn’t feature Kenneka in it.
September 9, 2017: Around 6pm, Kenneka’s family knock on doors at the hotel to see if any guests have any information on their loved-one.
September 9, 2017: According to Martin, around 10 p.m. police told they spotted Kenneka on video from about 3:20 a.m. earlier that morning, “staggering” drunk near the front desk.
September 10, 2017: Around 1am, Rosemont police break the awful news to Kenneka’s family that they found her body in the walk-in freezer. While cause of death was unknown at that time, reports state that there were abrasions and contusions found on Kenneka’s right leg.
September 11, 2017: Local and national media breaks the news of Kenneka’s death, prompting outrage on social media and beyond. Celebrities and influencers begin speaking out about her death online.
Martin expressed that she doesn’t believe the police’s account for what happened to her daughter. She says that it’s not plausible that her daughter could have opened the freezer’s strong doors in her state and stresses that someone must have murdered her daughter. She also makes it clear that she doesn’t believe that the police ever took her daughter’s case seriously.
September 13, 2017: A march is held in front of the Crown Plaza. In addition, Rosemont police stressed that the influx of conspiracy theories and internet sleuths are making their job harder in determining the cause of Kenneka’s death. This is an issue that plagues the case for the next month.
September 15, 2017: While Martin and her lawyers claim that they haven’t seen any footage of Kenneka in the freezer, Rosemont police released footage of the dead 19-year-old. In the videos released, Jenkins appears to be stumbling in the hotel kitchen, hallways and out of an elevator. There is no footage of her walking into the freezer.
September 23/24, 2017: In a Facebook live broadcast, Martin thanked supporters and activists for their encouragement, but made it clear that she no longer trusts protest organizers. She claimed an activist central to the demonstrations, Jedidiah Brown, was profiting from her daughter’s death after launching a monetary fund without her consent.
September 30, 2017: More than 1,000 people attend Kenneka’s funeral in Chicago. Friends, relatives and strangers wore purple, Jenkins’ favorite color, as a show of love, while others wore shirts with pictures of her along with the message “Justice for Kenneka.”
October 3, 2017: Martin leads another round of protests in front of the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel pushing for “justice for Kenneka.” She also begins calling for the FBI to come in and take over the case from the local police.
October 7, 2017: The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Kenneka’s death was an accident, stating that the teen ultimately died of hypothermia. In addition, they believed that topiramate, a drug used to treat epilepsy, mixed with alcohol, may have been the cause of Jenkins’ wandering state.
October 23, 2017: While police have closed Kenneka’s case, Martin’s lawyers state at a press conference that new graphic photos taken of the scene after they found her body raise serious questions about the teen’s death. Police do not reopen her case.
October 27, 2017: Local radio station WGCI interviews Martin where she tells them she believes the police covered up her daughter’s death and that she wants a second autopsy performed.
October 31, 2017: Martin appears on the “Doctor Oz Show” to discuss the case, raising doubt about the thoroughness of the police investigation.
Present Day: Kenneka’s case remains closed.
We may never know what really happened to Kenneka, but what we are a hundred percent sure about is that it’s imperative for our community to always stand up and fight for the lives of Black women and girls.
Rest in power Kenneka.
Say Her Name: Remembering Kenneka Jenkins, A Year Later was originally published on hellobeautiful.com