A week after Mississippi teenager Jessica Chambers was found badly burned on a rural road, friends and family struggled for answers at her funeral Saturday as police investigators continued to look for suspects in the homicide case.
On Dec. 6, police responding to reports of a car on fire in Courtland, Miss., found the 19-year-old Chambers on fire on a rural road. She was taken to a hospital and died shortly afterward. Her car was also set ablaze.
DeSoto County Dist. Atty. John Champion said police have no suspects.
The death of the former high school cheerleader has shocked many in the small, tight-knit community, said Tommy Wells, owner of the funeral home.
There are a little over 500 people in Courtland, and just about everyone knows everybody else, he said.
Many residents either work at a nearby General Electric plant, attend church together or gather to watch the high-powered South Panola High School football team on Fridays.
That familiarity only makes Chambers’ death more troubling, he said.
“Something like this has put a lot of people on alert that we got people walking around us that could do this, and they don't know who they are,” Wells said. “That is scary.”
Authorities are offering an $11,000 reward, hoping someone in the town will come forward with information.
“The Courtland community is a small community so we feel like somebody out there knows something or has heard something and has just not come forward yet,” Champion told reporters. “In all the years I've been doing this, this is an absolutely horrendous, horrendous case.”
He said Chambers was able to communicate with emergency personnel, but he did not say what her last words were or how they might affect the case.
Chambers’ family told the Clarion Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., that police believe someone was in her car with her, and that person may have poured accelerant down her throat and nose and set her on fire.
Chambers had a gash on her head and burns on 98% of her body.
“From what we were told, the only part of her body that wasn't burned was the bottom of her feet,” Chambers’ sister, Amanda Prince, told the newspaper.
The gruesome death and mysterious aftermath weighed heavily on those who gathered Saturday at Wells Funeral Home.
The Rev. Eric Greggs said that after he heard the news of her death last Sunday, he didn't “even feel like preaching.”
Parishioner Linda Oliver recalled meeting Chambers recently outside church, where they started talking about the teen’s future.
Chambers wanted to write a book and had been asking for advice, an emotional Oliver said to mourners before pausing for a moment. “Oh God,” she said, “how can we make some sense of this?”
The Rev. Larry Kilgore said he met Chambers a year ago when she came to him looking for advice and religious counseling.
He gave her a copy of the book “Devotions for a God Girl” to help her through her teen angst, he said.
“She was a sweet girl who would get into your heart,” he said.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he continued. “We are praying to God for some kind of closure.”