CHAMBERS CASE FOOTWORK

When we first began the Unsolved project, reporters were asked to read about the case, share their thoughts, and come up with a list of topics, questions and story ideas that could be explored. Here are some of their initial impressions:

“Chambers clung to life briefly after being rescued by paramedics, but died from extensive injuries in a Memphis hospital. Family and friends said Chambers had been planning on going to college and earning a degree the coming year. She wanted to become an accountant. Yet despite all the media attention . . ., North Mississippi police officials have yet to make real strides in this frustrating case . . In the coming months, one can only hope that there will be another lead to keep the case going long enough for investigators to make an arrest, Jessica Chambers can have the justice she so rightfully deserves, and her family, can have closure, after so much pain and suffering.” – McKenna Wierman

“Chambers death has since been classified as a homicide despite the fact that officials have yet to emerge publicly with a prime suspect in the case. While Panola County law enforcement officials are doing everything they can to put the pieces together, there are still many unanswered questions. Panola County has enlisted help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshal; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the United States Attorney’s Office; the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation; and the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Even with all of these powerful organizations collaborating to uncover the truths about what really happened to Chambers, nearly three and a half months later, there is no one behind bars for her murder.” –  Jordan Dollenger

“I don’t think I have ever heard about a murder so weird and mysterious . . I don’t understand how police haven’t been able to identify a possible suspect if they’re able to identify that this was definitely a homicide. I get the feeling that there are loopholes in this case, and I’m not sure why, but it’s definitely something that people are going to catch onto soon, and I think that will be what eventually leads to solving this unsolved murder.” – Jana Rosenberg

“Once the two-month anniversary of the teen’s death was reached, citizens across the nation began to question the capability of local authorities to bring justice for Jessica. With headlines reading ‘Finding Jessica Chambers’ killer turns cold,’ officials had to reach out assuring the nation that the case was far from cold. In referencing accusations from the public, local officials expressed that secrecy is a must, and the dissemination of information to the public must be judicious when there’s still a killer on the loose . . .Solace may be found in the notion that authorities are much more knowledgeable than the public has been led to believe.” – Ann Marie Edlin

“Much of the talk about ‘suspects’ in this case have been fueled by social media, such as blogs and Facebook, as well as gossip in the community regarding the case . . Despite the empty accusations of social media users and the speculations that concerned citizens have, law enforcement officials have few leads, and have not made a single arrest in the case.” – Yusuf Abusharif

“It has been over three months since the horrific event, and there are rumors of the case going cold. However, social media and internet bloggers are successfully keeping Chamber’s story alive and continued speculation circulating. There are numerous campaigns, Facebook and Twitter accounts that are dedicated to raising support for Chamber’s case and her family. These outlets are selling T-shirts, organizing fundraisers and posting continuous updates from the police department as fast as they can get them. . . Hopefully, with continued press promotion, support will finally give way to concrete evidence and conviction(s) in Jessica Chamber’s case.” – Virginia Driftmier

“While researching this story, I originally came up with the idea to go interview friends of Jessica from her school in Courtland, and write a story on the positive aspects of her life, and who she was. I feel too often that these tragedies focus on the horror of the case’s details when they should be memorializing a person who was lost. However, the case does need to be covered because the Chambers family deserves justice after months without any leads about who killed this bright and friendly girl. While reading this case, I wondered why more people haven’t stepped up around the community to help Jessica’s parents get justice . . It’s clear to me that there is something off in the timeline on the day of her murder, and more should be done to find out what happened that day.” – Megan Myers

“The news that rocked a small community has reached the national level, gaining the support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which added $25,000 to the award established to help find the person responsible for Chambers’ death. Money is the driving force for most people to act and say things they would not normally do, but it has not been helpful in this case so far.” – Lindsey Edwards

“Jessica Chambers’ case drew nationwide attention. Some of the reports given were verified with credible sources, and some were not. However, unaccredited sources seemed to fill social media with alleged gang activity, racially-motivated crime, and corruption of authority figures . . . How does biased reporting from theorists and politically-motivated websites affect the case’s progression for the police? . . In the comments sections of newspaper sites, racially-motivated theories were extremely common. The Ferguson case is fresh on the minds of students, as similar cases continue. One could compare the reporting of conservative vs. liberal news sites’ coverage of high profile topics like the Chambers case. In what ways do the reporting styles vary? Does leaning one way really affect who reads a certain newspaper?” – Katelin Davis

“As I think about the case, I wonder about things from both a journalist’s and citizen’s perspective. I wonder if Chambers knew her killer, if the people of Courtland and Batesville will ever feel safe again if no one is caught and convicted.” – Kendra Taylor

Some of the topics reporters listed as the basis of possible stories were the following:
Drugs
Gangs in the Mid-South
Gang violence
Domestic violence
Surveillance regulations
Forensics equipment and failure
Courtland, Panola County, Mississippi and U.S. crime, homicide and arson statistics
Hate crimes
Racism and criminology
Private investigators
Social media
Cold cases
Small town crime
Economic impact
Small town gossip

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STUDENTS REACT

By Justavian Tillman and McKenna Wierman
University of Mississippi

The death of Jessica Chambers, 21, has left some college students at the University of Mississippi feeling frustrated and outraged.

Chambers’ death affected Batesville native, Olivia Battle, a senior studying exercise science. Battle cheered with Chambers in junior high and high school.

“The fact that this not only happened in my hometown, but to someone I knew is quite frightening,” she said. “It is also scary that her killer(s) have not been caught yet, and it has me on the edge, because you never know if the killer(s) are hiding, or just waiting on their next victim.” walk2

The tragedy happened less than 40 miles from Oxford and has forced some students to open their eyes.

Kaypounyers Maye, a sophomore English education major, said the case has made him afraid for today’s youth.

“The fact that her case is shrouded mystery makes me fear that situations like this could possibly happen more often if teenagers are not better educated on the severity of recognizing harmful relationships,” he said.

Savannah Brantley said the case seems surreal.

“It is frightening to think that, only 30 minutes away, a girl was lit on fire and was burned alive on a normal day,” she said. “You hear about these kind of sad things happening in other places, but it was shocking for that incident to happen so close to us.”

Derwin Payton, a sophomore public policy major, said he isn’t surprised the case has gone unsolved.

“I am ashamed to say, however, I have gotten used to it, because it happens so frequently when a murder happens,” he said. “The police respond, but many times, it does not solve an issue.”

Students were also asked if they felt safe in light of the nearby crime. Haley Ruffin, a student at The University of Mississippi, said although the Chambers murder happened close to home, she felt – after learning the details of the case – it was an isolated incident, and she does not feel unsafe going out on her own.

Tiffanie Troxell, another Ole Miss student, agreed with Ruffin.

“You take a certain risk just leaving your house every day,” said Troxell, a Florida native who must often make long car trips alone. “I don’t feel nervous traveling alone because I don’t know anyone who would want to hurt me.”

Troxell said traveling alone assumes a certain amount of risk, regardless of race, age or gender.

Samara Shabel, a New Jersey native who also travels long distances on her own, said the Chambers murder made her nervous – not because it remains unsolved – but because of the violent and gruesome nature of the attack.

“As a young woman, you’re always told to be careful, to watch out, don’t walk alone at night, keep your keys between your knuckles, just always be on guard,” said Shabel. “It’s always a little scary traveling alone because, we as young women, have been taught all our lives just to expect that people will want to hurt us.

“I don’t think any of my friends or family would want to hurt me, and it’s not like I’m afraid of every person I see walking down the street or at a gas station when I stop to fill up my tank, but you know, you’ve got to keep your guard up.”

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