Investigation of burned woman in Mississippi presses on as friends, family struggle with loss



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COURTLAND, Mississippi — Jessica Chambers was a former cheerleader and softball player who had started a new job and hoped to begin college next year, friends and relatives say.

She liked to smile and playfully stick out her tongue at people. She was friendly and trusting of others, making her mother wonder if her outgoing personality had anything to do with her daughter's death.

"She didn't think anybody could harm her or would want to," her mother, Lisa Chambers, said Thursday.

Jessica Chambers, 19, was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire Saturday, authorities said. Police were reconstructing the last few hours of her life and appealed to residents of this small town to come forward with any information. So far, they have few solid leads.

Chambers' mother spoke to her daughter about an hour before her death.

"She was like, 'I'm cleaning out my car and I'm going to go get something to eat and be home to clean my room up," her mother said.

"She loved life, she loved everybody," her mother said. "She would do a monster face and stick her tongue out ... She's done that since she was about 3 years old."

Among the clues investigators are examining: surveillance video showing Chambers at a gas station, cellphone records from numerous people, unspecified evidence from her car and interviews with potential witnesses.

"There's just not a lot of street talk out there about who may or may not have done this," District attorney John Champion said at a news conference. "We feel like somebody out there has heard something."

Jay Hale, an assistant district attorney who handles cases in Panola County, confirmed that Chambers spoke to firefighters. He and Champion have declined to discuss what she said.

The Panola County sheriff's department, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are trying to establish where Chambers went and what she did in the final hours of her life.

The Marshals Service is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest. The local Crime Stoppers group is offering a separate reward of $1,000.

Lisa Chambers said she spoke with her daughter by phone Saturday evening, about an hour before Jessica was found on a back road, next to her burning car.

Jessica Chambers was a regular at the gas station where Ali Fadhel worked, and the two often chatted. On Saturday, she came by in a sweater and pajama pants.

Chambers spoke with someone before she walked into the store, Fadhel told The Associated Press. Surveillance video shows Chambers walking toward the front door. She stopped, turned to her left, and walked out of the picture.

After a few moments, she walked into the store and paid for $14 worth of gas, more than the $5 or so she usually bought, he said.

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.

Chambers told Fadhel she was going to make a stop before going home, he said.

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

Chambers' longtime friend, Alicia Faulkner, said whoever burned her should have "the same thing done to them."

"They should have to suffer what she went through," Faulkner said.

Her mother said she has locked the door of her daughter's room and has not let anyone inside. She had already bought her daughter presents for Christmas, which was Jessica's favorite time of the year.

"I feel her here. She's not at ease," Lisa Chambers said. "When she gets her justice, then she'll be at ease."

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