Chicago community activist said Thursday that surveillance video from a Rosemont hotel shows Kenneka Jenkins entering a walk-in freezer alone.
Andrew Holmes, who has worked with many police agencies during his years of anti-violence activism, told the Tribune that Rosemont detectives showed him the video Wednesday when he showed up seeking answers on behalf of the family.
He said the video shows Jenkins, 19, waiting in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel after her friends apparently went up to the room in which they had been partying to retrieve some possessions. Jenkins then takes the elevator to a lower level and wanders around, opening doors in an apparently disoriented manner, he said.
Finally, he said, Jenkins opens two doors in a kitchen area and enters the walk-in freezer. The doors close behind her and Jenkins is seen no more, he said.
Holmes said he was convinced no one else forced Jenkins into the area where she died. But he said the family is awaiting toxicology tests to see whether narcotics had been put into her drink.
“The important part is we all wanted to know: Did anybody call her down there?” he said. “Did anybody force her down there? Was there anybody on the other side of the room when she got down there? And the answer to that is no.”
Holmes’ account undercuts online speculation in recent days that the Chicago teen was murdered. He said the circulating theories are “just something they made up on social media,” and urged people with hard information to call authorities.
However, later Thursday at a protest outside the Crowne Plaza, Jenkins’ mother Tereasa Martin said she was misrepresented by the activists who called the news conference.
When asked whether Holmes had been shown the video, Rosemont police spokesman Det. Joe Balogh did not answer directly, but expressed appreciation for Holmes’ assistance “on behalf of the family and community pursuant to this investigation.”
He said the department has released the surveillance video to Jenkins’ family and to the Cook County Medical Examiner, which has yet to rule on the cause and manner of Jenkins’ death. Police have also interviewed numerous people involved in the case, he said.
Martin told a Tribune reporter Thursday that she has not seen the video but was planning to review it with her attorney, Larry Rogers, a prominent personal injury lawyer in Chicago. He did not return messages seeking comment.
Authorities say Jenkins went to a party at the Crowne Plaza on Friday night, and that she went missing early Saturday morning. Martin came to look for her, but said hotel staff and Rosemont police declined to search for hours.
Jenkins was finally found in the walk-in freezer and pronounced dead just before 1 a.m. Sunday. The medical examiner’s office has performed an autopsy but has said more tests are needed before it can pronounce a cause of death — a finding that could be weeks away.
Jenkins’ death became the focus of fevered online conjecture, with thousands of people using Facebook videos evidently taken at the hotel room party to spin theories about what happened. Many contended that Jenkins had been murdered.
Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens complained Wednesday that such speculation was impeding the investigation by forcing detectives to chase spurious leads.
Community activists seized upon the case after Martin complained about what she believed was a lack of urgency in the initial response by the hotel and police. A crowd converged on the hotel Wednesday night to demand justice, confronting guests and telling them a teen had died there under mysterious circumstances.
Despite Holmes’ statement, about 50 protesters gathered outside the hotel again on Thursday chanting, “No justice! No peace!”
Tamika Harris, of Chicago, said the latest revelation proves the hotel was negligent for not blocking access to the unsecured area. Police, she said, weren’t as forthcoming with evidence, allowing rumors to fester and run rampant.
“They could’ve put out more than they did,” Harris said. “When her mom came out that night, they wasn’t giving her no answers to help her out. So people feel like they knew but didn’t tell us.”
One protester tried to impede traffic and stared down a cop, nose-to-nose. Protesters rushed the entrance of the hotel, prompting police to fall back before chasing them back to the sidewalk. From there, some spit on the hotel’s sign and another tried to pull off the lettering.
In a short Facebook Live video broadcast Thursday, Martin asked protesters to keep their demonstrations peaceful and to avoid portraying the incident as a “race thing, because it’s not.”
“It could be your child,” she said. “It could be a blue child, it could be a purple child. It doesn’t matter. This is a peaceful march.”
Martin arrived at the hotel about 9 p.m. Thursday, thanking protesters for turning out in honor of her daughter. Martin commended a police officer for his work during the investigation.
And just when it appeared the tension had died down, Martin said she was misrepresented by the activists who called the news conference earlier.
“He came out of the blue and acting … like he was a friend,” Martin said about one of the activists. “But he calls me this morning and says, ‘Oh the hotel is not making any money. I think you need to go online and stop the protest.'”
When asked by a woman if information given earlier at the press conference was false, she responded, “Yes.” She told the crowd not to believe Facebook, but egged on jeers from the crowd when they mentioned unsubstantiated theories.
“Whatever happened is going to come out,” one woman told her.
“Yes!” Martin said.
Martin continued, “They were too hush-hush at the hotel.”
The crowd erupted into chants of “Justice for Kenneka!” and vowed to return to the hotel until the case was resolved.
“If there is no foul play and there is no cover up, there is no reason to deceive the citizens of the city,” activist Jedidiah Brown told Martin. “I apologize for being a part of that press conference. But what I need for you to do is to call for the citizens of Chicago to be out here every day until she gets justice she deserves.”
A spokesman for the Crowne Plaza said Thursday that the hotel has offered to pay for Jenkins’ funeral.
“Our hearts go out to Kenneka’s mother, her family and friends,” said the spokesman, Glenn Harston. “We hope covering the funeral costs provides a small bit of relief for them.”