Crime

Family mourns Jessica Chambers on her 21st birthday

THERESE APEL/THE CLARION-LEDGER 
 Jessica Chambers would have turned 21 Tuesday. Authorities say Jessica Chambers was doused with gasoline and set on fire in her car on Dec. 6, 2014.
THERESE APEL/THE CLARION-LEDGER Jessica Chambers would have turned 21 Tuesday. Authorities say Jessica Chambers was doused with gasoline and set on fire in her car on Dec. 6, 2014.

Jessica Chambers would have turned 21 years old Tuesday.

It was a birthday she anticipated not just for the usual reasons -- the freedom that comes with the age -- but because her father had a special 21st birthday gift lined up.

"Her whole life she couldn't wait until she turned 21 because I put some money in a trust fund for her years ago and she wasn't going to be able to get it until she was 21," said Ben Chambers. "She was going to buy a new car with it. She was excited."

Authorities say Jessica Chambers was doused with gasoline and set on fire in her car next to the gate of some private land on Herron Road on Dec. 6, 2014, just after 8 p.m. She got out of the car and was found on the road with burns over most of her body. She was able to give firefighters a name, but after interviewing more than 150 people, authorities still haven't been able to pin it to a specific person.

She died a few hours later in a hospital in Memphis. Officials said it was thermal injury that killed her.

Since then, her story has captivated millions, and her killer still has not been brought to justice. But invisible from the surface, the investigation continues one excruciating step after another, officials say. More than 20,000 phone records have been searched, and almost every minute of the days leading up to Jessica's death has been combed through by investigators.

Meanwhile, her family searches for answers in a different way.

"I think of all she will not experience. We want so much for our children and we want their life to be full of happiness, memories, and love," said Lisa Daugherty, Jessica's mother. "When you have a child in Heaven you live in limbo between here and there."

Ben Chambers said he's haunted by the fact that there was nothing he could have done to stop his daughter's death and his world being turned upside down.

"How somebody else could change your whole life up like that," he said, his voice becoming emotional. "You do what you can, you work, you go to church and come home and try to make a life for your family and someone could just destroy that life like that, and it's not right.

"It's just so hard today. It really seems like the longer it goes, the harder it is."

Ben Chambers said he's sure authorities know who killed his daughter, and that they're making sure they have an airtight case.

"I know they've got some good stuff they're working on, but you always wonder. I know in my mind they know who did it, but they won't say. They're just putting everything together," Ben Chambers said.

He said he's just waiting to get the news that one day he knows will come. He believes with all his heart that his daughter's killer will be apprehended.

"I'll thank God for one thing when I hear that news. You wait so long, you know, and without Him, everything is impossible," Ben Chambers said. "I know all along in my heart that some day they'll solve this, I know they will. They work so hard every day, a lot of people don't see what's going on."

There is still a $53,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Jessica's killer.

Daugherty said she pictures Jessica celebrating her birthday in Heaven.

"She is a beautiful angel today in Heaven celebrating her 21st birthday with the Lord," Daugherty said. "I have no doubt it is the most beautiful birthday she has ever seen. I wish I had a few minutes to be with her on this big day. I would hold her and let her know I love her more than words."

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