Police investigating the death of Kenneka Jenkins found in a Rosemont hotel walk-in freezer are reviewing video on social media that appears to show the victim in a ninth-floor room hours before she disappeared over the weekend.
Investigators also have been going over surveillance video and questioning potential witnesses, but they have yet to say how 19-year-old Kenneka Jenkins died or why she was in a freezer in a vacant area of the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center.
Jenkins’ mother, Tereasa Martin, said she last saw her daughter around 11:30 p.m. Friday when she left their West Side home to go to a party. Jenkins’ sister last spoke with her around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, close to the time she went missing, relatives said.
Her body was not discovered until nearly 24 hours later after the family repeatedly contacted the hotel and police, at one point knocking on doors until officers stopped them. Jenkins was pronounced dead on the scene at 12:48 a.m. Sunday, according to the medical examiner’s office.
Jenkins’ mother said Sunday she was told by police that her daughter apparently let herself into the freezer while drunk and died inside. An autopsy Sunday afternoon failed to determine a cause of death, and the medical examiner’s office said it was awaiting toxicology tests and further investigation by police.
Rosemont spokesman Gary Mack said police are reviewing a Facebook Live video that appears to show Jenkins sitting on a bed in a hotel room with other people around her.
The video — which has gotten more than 3 million views — features a woman in mirrored sunglasses talking to the camera. Reflected in her glasses is the other side of the hotel room, where Jenkins appears to be sitting.
Mack said authorities have identified most of the people on the video.
“Yes, they’ve looked at it and continue to look at it and all the other social media videos and posts,” Mack told the Tribune on Monday. “They are leaving no stone unturned as far as trying to corral everyone they can and talk to them and interview them about what happened and what was going on that night.”
The Facebook video has stoked outrage on social media, where many users believe Jenkins met with some kind of foul play. Some have threatened to harm people in the room.
The video has been shared online more than 46,000 times and has spawned a trending hashtag on Twitter bearing Jenkins’ name.
But Mack said that to seasoned investigators, this type of social media attention has become commonplace and it doesn’t hurt the investigation.
“In law enforcement this kind of social media has become king, so everybody with a camera is a reporter now, and they’re just taking it in stride as best they can,” Mack said.
Mack said it may take weeks to determine what happened. A toxicology test routinely takes weeks or months to complete, and the time it takes to finish a police investigation can vary greatly.
“I don’t think anything has been ruled in or ruled out at this point,” Mack said. “It’s just considered a death investigation at this point.”
Records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that walk-in freezer deaths are rare, but one happened last year at a hotel in Atlanta. Carolyn Mangham, who worked at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, was trapped in a freezer for 13 hours at temperatures below minus 10 degrees.
An exit button inside the freezer was supposed to allow people to open the door if it shut behind them, but authorities found it sometimes malfunctioned, The Associated Press reported.
Mack said he didn’t know if the freezer was on at the time. “If it was unused, I don’t know. Sometimes people keep refrigerators on all the time even if they’re unused,” he said.
It also remains unclear how Jenkins was found and who discovered her body.
Her family members have said they went to the hotel at 5 a.m. Saturday looking for her and repeatedly asked the hotel and police to search for her. A search was begun around 1:30 p.m. after the family said it was allowed to file a missing persons report.
Steven Shapiro, director of the hospitality and tourism law program at American University’s Washington College of Law, said hotel managers are reluctant to intrude upon their guests’ privacy, even when someone from the outside indicates there might be an emergency.
“Generally speaking, they’re going to bring in the police … and let them do the investigation,” he said. “Because people try to dupe them, they’re generally not going to open (a guest’s) door and say, ‘What are you doing?’ Their first obligation is to their guest, and not to the person who comes in off the street.”
Jenkins’ mother said she doesn’t believe the hotel began reviewing surveillance video until 3 or 4 p.m. Jenkins’ body was found around midnight.
Mack said he didn’t know if the surveillance video led searchers to the freezer. “I suppose they searched everywhere,” he said. “The surveillance video will reveal a lot, I suppose.
“As far as who found the girl’s body, they’re not saying on that,” Mack said. “That’s something that’s part of the investigation and they’re not releasing.”
He said police also were not disclosing whether there were any signs of trauma to Jenkins’ body.