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'I'm Just Looking For Help'

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Sep 20, 2017 - 2:25:13 PM

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A grieving mother, community seek the truth in a painful death

Kenneka Jenkins

CHICAGO— Friends and family convened in Douglas Park on Chicago’s West Side on a recent Saturday, helping set up tables with purple balloons and water bottles with a picture of Kenneka Jenkins in place of the original label.

Tereasa Martin, the mother of the 19 year old who died tragically inside of a freezer at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, 111., thanked everyone for their help and support, while telling everyone within earshot, “ If y ’all want to talk or give me a hug, I’m here.”

Kenneka’s death touched a nerve with Blacks of all ages across the country.

Everyone seems to agree that it’s unfathomable that a young woman, loved by so many people, could have died alone after being surrounded by friends just hours earlier.

According to early accounts, Kenneka and her friends were at Kenneka in the hallway to get her car keys and phone from inside the room. When they came back in the hallway, she was gone. The friends called her mother and eventually drove back to Chicago from the suburban town. They returned the car and the phone, but Kenneka was still missing. She was found dead in a hotel freezer the next day.

After the news of her death and the circumstances behind it began to spread, almost immediately, speculation about what really happened that night began to swirl on social media, particularly Facebook, where live videos recorded by various people inside the hotel that night began to circulate online.

Was she raped? Was she drugged? Was she set up by someone who was supposed to be her friend? These, and many more questions have been posted, but no definitive answers have yet to emerge.

What is known is that a young Black woman has lost her life, leaving her mother, family members and friends with more questions and so far, very few answers.

What We Know

Kenneka left her home on the West Side of Chicago around 11:30 p.m. on Friday evening, Sept. 8 with friends, one of whom was Irene Roberts, an employee at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, who was celebrating her 19th birthday with a party in a room on the 9th floor. Multiple Facebook Live videos posted by various people in attendance that night, showed Kenneka and others partying in the room.

Tereasa Martin, mother of Kenneka Jenkins, is comforted by her boyfriend as she speaks about her daughter’s death outside her home, Sept. 10, in Chicago, III. Photo: AP/wide World Photo

At approximately 4 a.m., on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 9, friends called Tereasa Martin to let her know that they were unable to locate her daughter and were in possession of Kenneka’s cellphone and Ms. Martin’s car keys and vehicle. Roughly an hour later, Ms. Martin arrived at the hotel and let staff know that her daughter was missing and her last known whereabouts was the hotel. It is at this point where the situation seemed to go downhill. Ms. Martin requested to see surveillance video from that night to try and track down her daughter, however she was told that a missing person’s report needed to be filed first.

Ms. Martin then contacted the Rosemont Police Department who told her to wait a few hours before filing an official report in the event Kenneka eventually turned up.

After filing a missing person’s report later that morning, the Rosemont police notified the hotel about the situation that afternoon. Unsatisfied with what seemed to be a lack of urgency on the part of the hotel and the police, Ms. Jenkins’ family returned to the hotel at approximately 6 p.m. and began knocking on room doors, asking guests if they had seen or heard anything.

It was at that point, hotel staff called police and when the responding officers arrived, they began independently reviewing surveillance video from the night before and spotted Kenneka staggering through the lobby area at approximately 3:20 a.m.

A second search of the premises ensued and a little more than six hours later, almost 24 hours after Kenneka had gone missing, she was found in a freezer and pronounced dead at 12:43 a.m. on Sunday morning, Sept. 10.

Aftermath and Controversy

As news of Kenneka’s death began to spread online, so did rampant speculation about what occurred that night. Some stories said that she was raped. Eventually, so many stories and theories developed that it became difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Andrew Holmes, a prominent activist and crisis responder with the Chicago Survivors program, reached out to Tereasa Martin and offered to help the family get answers and try and fill in the blanks on what happened to Kenneka. On Sept. 14, in cooperation with the Rosemont Police Department and the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mr. Holmes was not only able to review the surveillance video before it was released to the public— or the family— but he also traced her steps, and even went into the freezer where her body was found.

“I saw the video where she was walking toward the freezer area and it didn’t appear to me that there was any foul play involved. Nobody was there to pull her or lure her inside the freezer,” Mr. Holmes told The Final C all hours after viewing the video, but before the family had seen them. “If anybody was in there, you’d be able to tell on the video. I don’t think anyone would waste their time trying to cover something like this up knowing that they have this big case ahead of them .”

Surrounded by family and friends, Leonore Harris listens to a Facebook Live video that she believes pertains to the death of her sister, Kenneka Jenkins, at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Rosemont, III. on Sept. 10. Photo :AP /wide World Photo

Mr. Holmes also stated that while the area where Kenneka was found was not being used by the hotel, it was also unsecured, making it accessible to anyone, whether they were authorized to be there or not.

However, he does hold the hotel— and by extension, the Rosemont Police Department— accountable for not acting with a sense of urgency to try and locate Kenneka and find out what happened to her.

“They should’ve jumped on that right away. They should’ve looked at the surveillance video right away just due to the fact of the amount of people who were there and concerned about her whereabouts,” he said. “Had they looked at the video sooner, they could’ve seen where she was and she probably could’ve been saved.”

After reviewing the surveillance footage, Mr. Holmes made a public statement during a press conference surmising that Kenneka’s death, while unfortunate, was likely the result of an accident and that the results of the toxicology report would shift the investigation, and the attention, back on the party goers who were in the room that night.

However, he immediately came under fire for those statements, both by Ms. Jenkins’ family and other Chicago activists, for making such a sweeping conclusion in an ongoing investigation.

“What was done today was nothing short of deceptive, and it was designed to diffuse the momentum of our people coming out here and demanding justice for this baby,” Jedediah Brown, another prominent Chicago activist, said outside of the hotel on Sept. 14. “ [Andrew Holmes] never had the permission of the family to see those tapes or talk to the community about what was on those tapes. And every activist who said they were a representative of this family, has lied ... . The momma and the family were never okay with a narrative that they don’t even believe— that their daughter just walked into a freezer. They don’t believe that.”

After retaining the services of attorneys Sam Adam Jr. and Larry Rogers Jr., and after reviewing the video footage themselves— and specifically noting that there is no video showing Kenneka walking into the freezer— on Sept. 15, Tereasa Martin, flanked by her lawyers, held a press conference to allow their voices to be form ally heard on this situation.

“ [The Crowne Plaza Hotel] never checked. They never searched. They never did anything while a young, 19-year-old disoriented girl was sitting in their freezer,” Mr. Adam said. “Now there has to be an answer to how that happened. Better yet, there has to be an answer why that happened.”

Not long after, the Village of Rosemont released several clips of the surveillance videos from that night to the public, along with 911 calls, as well as stating that there was 36 hours of video from the 47 cameras on the premises that could be viewed upon request. This prompted more speculation, particularly on social media, that the tapes had been altered in some fashion and that there was more to the story than what was being told.

“I want to know what happened,” Ms. Martin said during the press conference. “ I want to see it all. I want to see her actually walking into this freezer and closing herself within this freezer and freezing to death.”

When asked as a mother who’s just lost her daughter, how she could remain strong and vigilant throughout this ordeal, Ms. Martin simply stated, “ God.”

Lessons to be Learned?

Regardless of the circumstances, the death of Kenneka Martin is seen by some as disregard for the life and well being of a fellow brother or sister. In the videos from the hotel room that night, drugs and alcohol were clearly visible on the premises. Whether this played a part in Kenneka’s death won’t be known until the official toxicology reports are released. From a broader perspective, the images depicted in the videos show the negativity that young Black men and women involve themselves in daily, making it easier to stereotype them.

Dr. Ajaya Devine, author of the book, “ Sista Sista: A Woman’s Guide to Self,” told The Final Call that one of the more unspoken issues within the Black community, as it relates to women, is that the sisterhood that should be there, in a lot of cases, is almost completely nonexistent, particularly in the case of Kenneka Jenkins who died alone, with no one around to help her.

“Sometimes as women, we’re not necessarily as close as we should be, or looking out for each other the way we would if we were truly sisters,” she said. “ It’s a lot of competition, even from women who are close and truly friends, there’s still that underlying competition there. But if that was your true sister, the minute you noticed she was gone, you’re gonna be like, ‘Where’s my sister?’ Friends, unfortunately go for most people, so there is that sisterhood that’s missing where it’s easy for a woman to say, ‘She’s on her own, she’s good, that’s not my problem,’ and it’s unfortunate.”

“You don’t let somebody that you go someplace with, go off by themselves,” Briana Wilson, a freshman at Clark Atlanta University and West Side Chicago native who has mutual friends of Kenneka Jenkins, told The Final Call. That’s just the ‘girl code.’ But really, you can say that’s the friend code.”

“If a group of girls I ’m with are out together and one has to go to the bathroom, at least one of us is going to go with her and stand by the door. And sometimes, we’ll all go in there with her and check our hair, makeup, take selfies, things like that. We never leave anybody we’re with alone.”

The family of Kenneka Jenkins has called for a federal investigation into her death, and the FBI has agreed to help if they are form ally asked. “ I’m not a professional, but the FBI, from what I heard, they are professionals,” Tereasa Martin stated Sept. 16 at the memorial for her daughter at Douglas Park. “ I’m just looking for help— that’s all I’ve been asking for since day one.”