One year later, Mississippi student’s body is still missing

Published 9:59 pm Saturday, July 8, 2023

July 8th is the one-year mark of Jay Lee’s disappearance. The community of Oxford is gripped by a haunting reality: his body remains undiscovered.

A well-known University of Mississippi student and active member of the LGBTQ+ community in Oxford, Lee went missing on July 8, 2022. Despite extensive efforts and ongoing legal proceedings, his fate remains unknown.

Lee’s friends and family have been searching for him ever since, but his whereabouts remain unknown. The Oxford Police Department has conducted multiple searches, but they have not been able to find any sign of Lee. Oxford Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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“We just want to bring Jay home,” Lee’s friend Braylyn Johnson told the Mississippi Free Press in May. “We know that someone out there knows something, and we just want them to come forward.”

Jay Lee’s case sparked fear and concern among students and residents, igniting a movement known as Justice for Jay Lee. Over the past year, the movement has tirelessly worked to raise awareness, seek justice, and honor Jay Lee’s memory. However, as the anniversary nears, it serves as a somber reminder that answers and closure have not yet been found.

“At the request of Jay Lee’s family, no public vigils or gatherings are planned for commemorating the one-year anniversary of his disappearance,” shared a representative from Justice for Jay Lee. “Instead, we are focusing on honoring Jay on August 9, his birthday.”

The decision to respect the family’s wishes reflects a desire for a more private and personal observance, allowing loved ones to remember Jay Lee in their own way. It underscores the ongoing support and consideration within the community for those affected by his absence.

Despite the absence of public gatherings, the Justice for Jay Lee movement remains steadfast in their pursuit of justice and the search for Jay Lee’s body. The community’s commitment to keeping his memory alive is unwavering.

Jay Lee’s disappearance sheds light on the broader challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Mississippi, already identified as an unsafe state for these communities, has grappled with discriminatory legislation and hate crimes. The case serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing need for advocacy and systemic change to create a safer environment for all.

In 2021, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recorded 20 hate crimes against LGBTQ people in Mississippi. This is a significant increase from the 12 hate crimes recorded in 2020.

The number of hate crimes targeting LGBTQ individuals is likely significantly higher than reported due to underreporting.

Prosecuting these crimes in Mississippi is challenging due to the absence of hate crime protections. The state’s existing hate crime law fails to encompass safeguards for individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Consequently, even if a crime is driven by hate, it may not be treated as a hate crime under the law.

Furthermore, the absence of hate crime protections in Mississippi complicates efforts to monitor the issue. Without comprehensive data on hate crimes, it becomes arduous to grasp the full extent of the problem and devise effective solutions.

As the legal proceedings against Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., the indicted suspect in Jay Lee’s case, move forward, the community anxiously awaits answers and resolution. Herrington, who has maintained his innocence, was released on bond in December 2022 after suing the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department saying he was being held illegally without evidence he was involved in Lee’s death.

Herrington must wear an ankle monitor and report his whereabouts to the court on the first Monday of every month while he is out on bond.

The trial date has yet to be set. The lack of Jay Lee’s body further complicates the investigation, leaving many questions unanswered. Police revealed that Herrington’s cellphone history showed conversations between him and Jay Lee on the day of his disappearance. Disturbing internet searches conducted by Herrington, such as inquiries about strangulation, have also come to light. However, the search for physical evidence and Jay Lee’s remains continues.

“Our community makes our in-person appearances just so much better. Their support is incredible,” remarked Johnson in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, highlighting the unwavering dedication and solidarity within the Justice for Jay Lee movement.