People Magazine Investigates goes inside the murder case of Jessica Chambers, who was burned alive in 2014

By Christine Pelisek
February 18, 2019 12:01 PM
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Everybody loved Jessica Chambers.

The popular 19-year-old former cheerleader from Mississippi was funny, smart and easy to get along with. She graduated high school with all A’s and B’s and worked a job. Although she ran with a rough crowd at times and had been going through a difficult patch, friends said her life was looking up.

“She was going to church and everything was falling into place for her,” friend Leslie Hall previously told PEOPLE.

But her future was cut short on Dec. 6, 2014.

That evening, a truck driver spotted a car fire along a rural road in Courtland and called 911. When firefighters responded, they encountered a horrific scene: A young woman who’d been set on fire with a flammable liquid was walking towards them, clothed only in her underwear. Her Kia Rio also had been set ablaze, with the fire’s intensity bleaching the vehicle’s black exterior white.

The young woman, who was later identified as Jessica, pleaded for help as a firefighter wrapped her blistered body in a blanket and laid her down.

She would soon die, but before she did, paramedics asked who did this to her. Though it was difficult for Chambers to speak, she whispered a man’s name that sounded either like “Eric” or “Derrick.”

Jessica Chambers
Chambers-Prince Families/AP

Her tragic death garnered national attention, drew online sleuths to a “Justice for Jessica” Facebook page, spawned a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and a large-scale manhunt for her killer.

The mystery surrounding the murder is the subject of tonight’s episode of People Magazine Investigates. Titled “Burned Alive,” the episode airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. (An exclusive clip is shown above.)

At the heart of the mystery was a question: Who would want Chambers dead?

“What could a [small] 19-year-old girl do to make you burn somebody alive? This is beyond murder,” her father Ben Chambers previously told PEOPLE. “This is revengeful, hateful killing.”

Ben Chambers
Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger via AP

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Jessica’s mother Lisa Daughtery described her daughter as a “normal teenager.”

“She wasn’t putting herself in a place or with people to kill her,” she told PEOPLE. “She loved everybody.”

However, as speculation grew, some of Jessica’s friends speculated whether someone in the rough crowd she’d been spending time with killed her.

“I think she was making friends with the wrong people, with drug dealers,” her ex-boyfriend Bryan Rudd told PEOPLE.

Still, he added, “she did nothing that was bad to get herself burnt alive.”

Before the mystery of her killing was solved, everybody was a suspect to Jessica’s mother.

“I walk around looking [for Jessica’s killer],” said Daugherty. “You get angry at everything.”

People Magazine Investigates: Burned Alive airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.