Christmas is just not the same for Ben Chambers in the two years since his 19-year-old daughter, Jessica, was set on fire in her car in Mississippi

By Christine Pelisek
December 27, 2016 02:27 PM
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Christmas is just not the same for Ben Chambers in the two years since his 19-year-old daughter, Jessica, was set on fire in her car on the side of the road in Courtland, Mississippi.

Ben got the horrific news on Dec. 6, 2014. He and Jessica’s stepmother, Debbie Chambers, were coming home from Christmas shopping when an ambulance “came flying past us,” Debbie tells PEOPLE.

That ambulance was one of the first responders rushing to the scene to try and save Jessica’s life — but could not. The teen was flown to Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, with burns over 98 percent of her body. She died in the hospital.

“Last Christmas and this Christmas [Ben] is not interested in shopping at all,” Debbie says, adding,. “He wants no part of Christmas.”

Not a day goes by that he doesn’t relive the fateful day, Ben says. “Some days are better than others,” he tells PEOPLE. “Some days it is like reliving it all over again.

“I think about her every day.”

Jessica’s case frightened everyone in her tiny town of just 500 and made neighbors and friends suspicious of one another. A $54,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest in the case and more than 155,000 Facebook users “liked” the Justice for Jessica page.

“When you have a homicide in a small community, we generally quickly have an idea who did it,” District Attorney John Champion told PEOPLE at the time.

Police meticulously traced Jessica’s last day, including the hour between her leaving town and being found near her burning white 2005 Kia Rio, stumbling blindly along a road. But for more than a year, no suspects emerged.

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Family and friends were stumped as to why anyone would want to kill the bubbly teen.

“She was really easy to get along with,” Jessica’s friend Leslie Hall previously told PEOPLE. “She was funny. She was really smart.”

Some people who knew Jessica said she had been hanging out with a rough crowd before her death, and they wondered at a possible connection. Hall said Jessica went through a rough patch before her death, but she was pulling through it: “Jessica said in October [2014] she was going to church and everything was falling into place for her.”

“She did nothing that was bad to get herself burnt alive,” ex-boyfriend Bryan Rudd told PEOPLE.

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Quinton Tellis
| Credit: Ouachita Parish Sheriff

Then, in February 2016, prosecutors charged Quinton Tellis, who grew up in the same neighborhood and attended the same high school as Jessica, after zeroing in on his phone records.

“We knew he was the last person she was with,” DA Champion said at the time.

“This guy lived at the other end of the street from us,” Debbie tells PEOPLE. “Jessica knew him roughly for 12 days. A mutual friend introduced them.”

At the time he was charged with murder, Tellis, then 27, was in a Louisiana jail after being accused of the unlawful use of a debit card that belonged to Meing Chen-Hsiao, a Taiwanese exchange student, who was found tortured and stabbed more than 30 times in August 2015.

Tellis was later charged with Chen-Hsiao’s murder. He pleaded guilty to the debit card charge in May, according to reports, though it was not clear if he has entered a plea in Chen-Hsiao’s killing. He has pleaded not guilty to Chambers’ murder. Efforts to reach his attorney for comment were unsuccessful.

“I believe Jessica and this woman [aren’t] the only [ones] he killed,” Debbie says. “I believe he has killed before.”

Tellis, who is being held in the DeSoto County jail in Mississippi, is scheduled to go to trial on June 19 for Jessica’s murder.

“We want it to go to trial, but it is going to open up all these wounds again,” Debbie says. “I am not looking forward to that. But I want him tried and convicted and put in prison for the rest of his life.”

About sitting through the trial, Debbie says, “It will be like it happened all over again.”