Dec 10, 2014 6:33 PM

Burning death inquiry eyes woman's last hours

The Associated Press

COURTLAND, Miss. (AP) Surveillance video that shows a woman at a convenience store gas station less than two hours before she was set on fire and left to die is part of the puzzle authorities were trying to piece together Wednesday about the last hours of the 19-year-old's life.

Authorities were reviewing Jessica Chambers' cellphone records and talking to possible witnesses, who could become suspects, said Jay Hale, an assistant district attorney who prosecutes cases in Panola County. They are trying to figure out what happened to her before she was found barely alive near her burning car Saturday in Mississippi.

Hale said Chambers spoke with firefighters on the scene before she was taken to a Memphis hospital, where she died. Hale said he could not discuss what she said.

"She was able to communicate. It was difficult," Hale said.

The video shows Chambers walking toward the front door of the convenience store in Courtland, which is about an hour south of Memphis, Tennessee. She then stopped, turned to her left, and walked out of the picture.

Convenience store manager Ali Fadhel said Chambers came in frequently and he would often speak with her. He told The Associated Press that Chambers spoke with someone before entering the store to purchase gas.

On her way out, Chambers got a call on her cellphone, Fadhel said. After she pumped gas, she re-entered the store, bought cigarettes, and drove away, headed south on Highway 51, he said.

According to Fadhel, Chambers was wearing a dark-colored sweater and pajama pants that looked like sweatpants. Chambers said she was going to make a stop before going home, Fadhel said.

"If she knew she had a problem with somebody, she would have told me," Fadhel said.

Chambers bought $14 worth of gas, more than the $5 or so she usually purchased, he said.

"I asked her, 'Why are you putting so much gas?' She said, 'I'm going somewhere,'" Fadhel said.

Hale said he could not comment on Fadhel's statements.

Relatives of Chambers were trying to cope with the loss. A woman who answered the door of the home of her father, Ben Chambers, said he was feeling badly and was unable to speak with reporters. Chambers told The Huffington Post that his daughter had left her mother's house in Courtland not long before she was found on the side of the road.

Chambers' grandmother, Dot Boatright, said the family was doing as well as can be expected. Boatright said she "went all to pieces" when she heard about Chambers' death.

Not much was immediately revealed about the woman's background by authorities, but Boatright said of her granddaughter, "She was just a sweet little girl."

Amanda Prince, who identified herself as Jessica Chambers' older sister, told CNN Wednesday night that the family is "shocked, lost ... confused, angry, hurt."

"I have so many questions," she said. "I want to know why."

Asked if she knew of anyone who had a grudge against her sister or might want to hurt her, Prince replied, "No one. She was loved by everybody. I don't know who would want to do this or why."

Prince described her sister as "very athletic" and outgoing, and said that at various times she had expressed interest in becoming a nurse, a dentist and a writer.

"She was happy all the time," she said. "She made everyone laugh. She lit up a room. ... She was just full of life."

The grassy area alongside the road where Chambers was found about 90 minutes after she was captured on the convenience store video was cordoned off with yellow tape Wednesday.

Authorities are testing samples taken from her vehicle. The U.S. Marshals Service is helping review the cellphone records from numerous people including Chambers to try to pinpoint where she went in the hours before she died, Hale said.

"We're interviewing every possible witness. These witnesses certainly could be possible suspects," he said.

Mississippi authorities say they have received offers to help from several agencies, including the U.S. attorney's office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Autopsy results have not been released, and it was not clear when they would be available.

"When it comes to a case like this of a burn nature, you don't get a lot of answers overnight," Hale said.


Associated Press Writer Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.


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