brightcove.createExperiences(); In the 14 months since Mississippi teen Jessica Chambers was burned to death, rumors have swirled about why she was killed. Among the most persistent rumors: that the killing was gang related.
But District Attorney John Champion says that the motive was much more specific. “This was personal against Jessica,” he said in a press conference. “We’ve always believed that this was a personal attack.”
A grand jury charged Quinton Tellis with capital murder in the case. He is jailed in Louisiana in connection with another crime – unlawful use of a credit card of a Taiwanese exchange student who was murdered. He will eventually be extradited to Mississippi.
According to Champion, Tellis was a gang member. Earlier on Wednesday, he told PEOPLE that Tellis was a “habitual offender,” saying, “He’s got a felony fleeing charge he did a little time on, he’s got a burglary charge that he did time on.”
Champion said authorities zeroed in on Tellis when they got information on the location of his phone. “We knew he was the last person she was with,” he told PEOPLE.
Tellis and Chambers were acquainted, Champion said. “They knew each other,” he told reporters. “They’re from the Courtland area. They had been introduced by a friend.”
Earlier Wednesday, Chambers’ father, Ben, told PEOPLE that Chambers and Tullis knew each other for less than two weeks.
In the 45-minute long press conference, Champion also addressed one of the most persistent rumors of the case: that accelerant had been poured down Chambers’ throat before she was set on fire. “I’ll clear that up,” he said. “There was nothing poured down her throat.”
Prosecutor: ‘This is Hurdle Number One’
Although Tellis’s arrest has made international headlines, authorities warn the public not to celebrate just yet.
“This is nothing but hurdle number one,” said Champion. “We’re nowhere near the end of this. But I’m certainly satisfied that the evidence we presented to the grand jury – and the feedback we got from them – certainly make me feel a lot better.”
According to Champion, the arrest comes after several false starts during the investigation. “We had a lot of leads that looked really, really good in this case, but they kept fizzling on us.
“Everybody wants a case like this to be solved immediately, but it took time to do this right. We methodically plugged along, making sure we had the right information, and we had something to back it up.”
Her Parents Speak Out
As Champion finished speaking, Jessica’s father, Ben Chambers, stood up. “I just want to thank the Sheriff’s office for their all their hard work,” he told reporters. “The hard work they’ve done has never stopped. All the other cases they had, they never stopped. They told me that someday this would come, and it did. They would not give up.”
Earlier Wednesday, Chambers told PEOPLE, “I don’t know [Tellis]. I know by his record or whatever that he never should’ve been out on the street. The system failed, I know that.”
Chambers expressed his full support of the authorities when asked what he hoped would happened next: “Whatever the law allows, whatever Mr. Champion does to him, that’s what I hope happens,” he said.
But the arrest has given some closure to the family, although Chambers acknowledged that it’s “just the first step.”
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” he said. “Jessica will be at peace now.”