Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 22, 2015. In October 2017, Jessica Chambers’ accused killer, Quinton Tellis, went on trial for murder in Mississippi.
It’s been more than a year since the murder of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers, but her mother isn’t ready to accept that her little girl is gone.
“I still text her phone,” Lisa Chambers, 45, tells PEOPLE, adding that she listens to her daughter’s old voicemails as well. “I write her, ‘I love you to the moon and back my sweet, precious angel. I miss you.’ “
On the evening of Dec. 6, 2014, someone set the teen on fire, then left her to stumble blindly along a road in Courtland, Mississippi, with burns covering 98 percent of her body.
“They told us she was like the walking dead,” says Lisa.
First responders fought to save Jessica’s life, but couldn’t. After Jessica was airlifted to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, there was little doctors could do but wrap her in gauze.
“That was the worst feeling,” says Ben Chambers, Jessica’s father. “When I was waiting on that doctor, I still thought she was just going to be burnt, but she was going to be alright.”
But Jessica’s organs were already shutting down. “Her heart was the last to go,” says Debbie Chambers, Jessica’s stepmom. The teen died at 2:37 a.m.
Now, her family is looking for answers. “What could a [small] 19-year-old girl do to make you burn somebody alive? This is beyond murder,” says Ben. “This is revengeful, hateful killing.”
He adds: “She was well loved. Everybody loved Jessica. I never dreamed nothing like this would happen to her in a million years. It breaks my heart.”
The Chambers family is hopeful that Jessica’s killer will be caught. But the wait is maddening. “I walk around looking [for Jessica’s killer],” says Lisa. “You get angry at everything.”
Jessica’s death is especially painful during the holiday season. Lisa says a white angel that sits atop her Christmas tree reminds her of her dead daughter. “I see Jessica’s face every time I look at it,” she says.
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Investigators are hopeful for a break in the case following the Dec. 15 arrests of 17 suspected area gang members on gun and drug charges. Those arrests came about because of the investigation into Jessica’s death, and they may bring authorities “closer to the truth” about her shocking murder, says District Attorney John Champion.
“Do I have theories? Yeah,” says Lisa. “Can I prove any of them? No.”
Adds Debbie: “Eventually this person will be caught. Something’s gonna happen.”
• With reporting by ALEXANDRA ROCKEY FLEMING and CHRISTINE PELISEK