On October 20, 2017 the Rosemont Police Department closed the investigation into the death of 19-year-old Kenneka Jenkins. Just one-month prior, on September 10 around 12:25 a.m., Jenkins was found lying on the floor in the hotel freezer of the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center, after spending the weekend partying with friends.
The Cook County medical examiner ruled her death an accident, caused by “hypothermia due to cold exposure in a walk-in freezer with ethanol and topiramate intoxication as significant contributory conditions.”
For 21 hours her family and friends knew nothing of her whereabouts. Friends last saw her around 3 a.m. on September 9, when she left the hotel room to look for her phone. One can only wonder what transpired in those lonely hours between that time and when her body was discovered by a hotel worker.
Surveillance cameras showed her walking in a trance as she stumbled through the hotel’s hallways. No one there to help or guide her back to safety, back to the comfort of her mother Tereasa Martin or her sister Leonore Harris. No one to guide her back to life. Between 3:32 and 3:35 a.m. on September 9, surveillance footage showed Jenkins walked into the hotel’s freezer, never to be seen alive again.
Investigators believe topiramate, a drug used to treat epilepsy, mixed with a large dose of alcohol, may have been the cause of Jenkins’ wandering state. Jenkins did not have a medical prescription for the drug at the time of her death. But in the weeks following, a plethora of conspiracy theories echoed out into social media, somewhat thwarting the public’s concentration and making the investigation a question riddled map of twists and turns, according to investigators. Her family contends that they believe foul play was a factor—which gave the conspiracies some validity.
Her death like so many others would have gone quietly into the night had it not been for the efforts of her family and the surrounding community searching for answers and a solid timeline of the moments leading up to when the door slam of the hotel freezer, locking her inside.
The Rosemont Police Department released the surveillance footage one week after her death to answer calls by Jenkins family and community, accusing the police of little transparency. A few days after investigators closed the case, authorities released photos of her dead body.
No longer was her physical state at the time of her death a private matter, but now on full display for the world to see. Her family’s autonomy and Jenkins’ decency was now in the hands of whoever racked up enough momentum to click. And again, the imagery of a Black person’s death flooded our screens and gave way to internal trauma and pain.
Questions that come to mind in the face imminent death can only be answered by the young woman who is no longer with us. Were you scared? Did you call out into the night for your mother, for your sister? Did you yell for help into the hallowed echo of the hallways that answered back with silence? Did you know the door that closed behind you would be the last door you ever opened?
Here we plan to honor the life of a young woman with so much promise—a life ultimately cut short. The questions of what would have been are not for us to ponder or answer. Her family’s pain still rattles with the knowledge that the medical examiner’s conclusion gave no offering into their despair.
Here we honor her as a young Black woman whose death reverberated through her community and through the nation. For Black women especially, it was a reminder of youthful nights that could have culminated in a dark outcome. Of evenings where one decision that we made or was made for us, swayed the timelines of our lives. Kenneka Jenkins is you. Kenneka Jenkins is all of us.
Here on the anniversary of her death, we again ask the question: What happened to Kenneka Jenkins?