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Kenneka Jenkins’ funeral draws 1,000-plus, many who never knew her

Tereasa Martin, mother of Kenneka Jenkins, prays during her daughter's funeral at the House of Hope Church Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The teen was found inside a walk-in freezer at a hotel in Rosemont. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Mournful screams and sobs at times drowned out the quiet gospel music being played Saturday as a sea of friends, relatives and supporters of Kenneka Jenkins’ family, clad in purple and white, passed the lavender and pink casket of the 19-year-old woman.

More than 1,000 people — many who never knew Jenkins — turned out for the Chicago teen’s wake and funeral at the House of Hope Church.

They came to pay their respects — and show their support to Jenkins’ mother, Tereasa Martin, as she continues to seek answers about the events surrounding her daughter’s death. Jenkins was found dead Sept. 10 in a walk-in freezer at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Conference Center in Rosemont, where she had attended a party earlier that weekend.

Joseph Alvarez, who has known Jenkins since she was an 8th grader, said there were a lot of emotions in the air during Saturday’s service.

“I’ve known her for a while, since her mom would have events in Douglas Park to gather the kids together without violence,” said Alvarez, 23. “[Martin] knows I love her, I tell her all the time to stay strong and to continue to show that passion and power.”

Jenkins’ death has drawn international attention since her body was found in the hotel freezer. The teen left her home near the United Center at 11:30 p.m. Sept. 8 to attend a party at the hotel, police said. Jenkins’ sister last heard from her by a text message about 1:30 a.m. Sept. 9, and she was last seen by her friends at a party on the ninth floor of the hotel early that morning.

Jenkins was reported missing that Saturday afternoon, and authorities found her in the freezer shortly after midnight.

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Friends and family did not speak during the funeral; instead it was up to pastors James Meeks, a former state lawmaker, and Andre Williams to eulogize the young woman.

Family and friends of Kenneka Jenkins gather around the casket of the teenager at her funeral Sept. 30, 2017. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

“Some of us are best friends because of Kenneka,” Williams said. “She was sent her to serve a purpose — which she did — and that was to touch the world.”

Much of the service honored Martin, who had undergone a double mastectomy not long before Jenkins’ death. Many pointed to Martin’s strength during the weeks that followed both her surgery and the death of her daughter.

“We’re not here to solve this, we’re not here to ask questions,” Rev. Meeks said. “We’re here to wrap our arms around a mother, a father, many aunts and uncles and friends who have lost a loved one.”

Meeks pointed to Martin many times during the service. “We live in a mean world with mean and cruel people, but we can’t let that stop us.”

Jenkins’ death has brought many together. People from Detroit traveled to Chicago for Saturday’s funeral, and a woman from Carbondale, who drove five hours to support Martin, said she’s been following the story of Jenkins’ death and hoping for answers.

Others from Chicago said the same thing.

“I’ve been following this story like she’s a relative,” Denise Mitchell said. “Maybe now — hopefully now — we can get to the bottom of this. Those involved need to go to jail, and hopefully this never happens again to another family.”

Tereasa Martin, mother of Kenneka Jenkins takes a moment to pray before entering the House of Hope Sanctuary Saturday for her daughter’s funeral. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Alvarez, the family friend, said, “I would want [Jenkins and her family] to know we won’t stop until she gets justice. We’re going to live the “justice for Kenneka” revolution [until then].”

Activists have called for the FBI to investigate the Rosemont Police Department’s handling of the case, and Twitter and Facebook have been deluged with theories about a cover-up in Jenkins’ death, with many believing she was murdered.

Rosemont police have released nine video clips showing Jenkins walking through the hotel in the hours before her death. She can be seen walking unsteadily through the hotel’s kitchen before disappearing around a corner, but none of the released footage shows her entering the freezer.

Kenneka Jenkins | Facebook photo

Rosemont Police could not be reached for comment Saturday on the status of the investigation.

The FBI, whom Martin and others have said should be involved in the investigation, has said it “will support our local and federal law enforcement partners upon their request to assist with an investigation.”