Questions surround woman’s death in Chicago hotel freezer

Surveillance video may shed light on the mysterious death of a young Chicago woman whose body was found in a hotel freezer last week. The case sparked accusations of foul play on social media.

Police in Rosemont, a suburb northwest of Chicago, said Kenneka Jenkins, 19, was last seen early Saturday, September 9, at a party at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel. Her family reported her missing later that day, and Jenkins’ body was found in the walk-in freezer at the hotel shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday. The results of an autopsy by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office are pending.

Surveillance video from inside the Crowne Plaza, released by the Rosemont Public Safety Department and obtained by CNN, shows Jenkins staggering through the hotel’s hallways early Saturday.

In the footage, Jenkins is first seen walking through the hotel with several unidentified people around 1:13 a.m. on that Saturday. She appears to be steady.

But when Jenkins is next sighted exiting an elevator at 3:25 a.m., she is alone and visibly impaired, and staggers out of the elevator, briefly leaning on the wall for support before heading down the hallway.

Surveillance cameras next catch Jenkins in hallways at 3:27 and 3:29 a.m., also alone. She struggles to head in one direction, and nearly falls over several times, but catches herself.

The last clip shows Jenkins stumbling through the hotel kitchen, which appears to be empty. She walks out of view of the cameras at 3:32 a.m., the last time she was seen before her body was found in the hotel’s walk-in freezer.

Police say they have 36 hours of surveillance video from that weekend and have publicly released all clips in which Jenkins can be seen.

At no point in the footage provided to CNN can Jenkins be seen walking into the freezer.

Andrew Holmes, a community activist who police said is working with Jenkins’ family, said Thursday that Rosemont police showed him surveillance video of the young woman walking into the freezer in the hotel basement on her own.

Holmes told CNN affiliate WBBM Jenkins appeared to be lost and tried several doors to get upstairs to the hotel lobby before she walked into the freezer, located in an unsecure area.

“We all wanted to know: Did anybody pull her down there? Did anybody force her down there? Was anybody on the other side in that room when she got down there? And the answer to that is no,” Holmes told WBBM.

Holmes urged anyone with evidence in the case to contact police and stop making accusations on social media.

“Just don’t put it out there on Facebook because if you put it out there, then be prepared to answer what you put out there,” Holmes told WBBM.

When her friends realized Jenkins was missing, they notified her mother, Tereasa Martin. In recordings of 911 calls released by the police and obtained by CNN, Martin said the friends her daughter was with had gone upstairs to find a phone and left Jenkins in the hotel’s lobby.

When they came back, Martin said, Jenkins was gone. Martin told the police dispatcher that her daughter’s friends said she drank “one cup” but that “one cup is too much for her,” Martin said.

Police: ‘Not ruling out anything’

In a news release, the Rosemont Public Safety Department said it was publicly disclosing all the video surveillance from the Crowne Plaza Hotel that showed Jenkins the night of her disappearance. Jenkins’ family has seen the surveillance video, the release said.

Rosemont police spokesman Detective Joe Balogh said Holmes was shown portions of the surveillance footage, in the hope that he could help with the investigation, but Balogh declined to confirm Holmes’ account of the video.

“On our end, we’re not ruling out anything but we are using that footage to try and pinpoint what happened,” Balogh told CNN.

Rosemont police said in a statement they have interviewed and located a dozen people “who were involved in some way,” including eight who were at the party. Police were looking for four others.

Police said they are also combing through hours of footage from 47 hotel cameras. Technicians were also looking at videos related to the investigation.

Balogh told CNN that authorities also handed over the video to an attorney for Jenkins’ mother and to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Martin and her attorneys said at a news conference Friday they had seen “snippets” of surveillance video, but had not seen all of it.

“I thank everybody for your help, the love and support,” Martin said. “But I also want to know what happened. I want to see all — I want to see her actually walking into this freezer and closing herself within this freezer and freezing to death.”

Hotel offers to pay for funeral

In the news conference, Jenkins’ mother and her attorneys were critical of the hotel’s response.

Martin, the attorneys said, called the hotel and went there early Saturday to ask them to review surveillance footage to find her daughter.

“They never checked. They never searched,” said Sam Adams, one of Martin’s lawyers. “They never did anything while a young, 19-year-old disoriented girl is sitting in their freezer.”

“Ms. Martin just wants to know what happened to her daughter,” Larry Rogers, another lawyer for the Jenkins family, told CNN Saturday. “We’re just trying to see where the facts lead.”

Wednesday, Jenkins’ family and supporters gathered at the hotel demanding answers. They carried signs and chanted: “Release the tapes.”

Rosemont police said the hotel has cooperated with the investigation.

According to WBBM, a hotel spokesman, Glenn Harston, said Jenkins’ death was “a tragic accident.” He added that the freezer had latches on the inside and outside and did not lock.

Crowne Plaza hotel representatives could not be reached. The hotel has offered to pay for Jenkins’ funeral,  WGN reported.