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Woman seeks closure in daughter’s death

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The mother of a 34-year-old woman whose body was found dumped along a rural Johnston County road on Dec. 28 wants closure and some answers.

The N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled that Jennifer Michelle Chatham of Wendell Road south of Wendell died of “acute metamphetamine, heroin and cocaine intoxication.” The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office responded to the area of 16816 N.C. 50 N. and Pierce Road outside Garner where a motorist found Chatham’s body beside the road.

A 911 caller said she discovered the body on Pierce Road, about a quarter-mile from N.C. 50 with tire marks nearby. The caller said she had been in the area around 7 p.m. and the body wasn’t there at that time. She said it appeared the body was dumped at the site and that half of Jennifer’s clothing had been removed.

The autopsy report said Jennifer had “scattered abrasions and contusions, but no trauma that caused or contributed to her death.”

The manner of her death was ruled an accident.

Tammy Chatham said although her daughter struggled with drug addiction most of her life, she deserved better than to be dumped by the side of the road.

“The only way I figure the sheriff’s office was led to me was through her smartphone,” Chatham said. “In my initial conversation with the sheriff’s office, the officer didn’t know her name. To them, perhaps she was just another drug addict that overdosed. But that’s not the case. I’d love to get some answers. I’m a single woman, trying to raise her son and can’t pursue it how I would like to pursue it.”

Chatham said she was not permitted to identify her daughter’s body and hasn’t been updated on the case.

To add to her grief, Chatham said someone posted clothes for sale on a website using her daughter’s name three months after the woman’s death. Chatham said she’s called the sheriff’s office but did not receive a response.

Johnston County sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Caldwell said his investigator has been working hard on this case.

“This wasn’t a homicide,” said Caldwell. “We’ve spoken to anyone who may have seen or heard anything. The information we’ve received has not led us back to additional information.

“We’ve followed all the leads we’ve developed. We’ve talked extensively with her brother. We welcome anyone that might have information as to the circumstances of her death to come forward. This is a very unfortunate situation.”

Caldwell said there were no surveillance cameras at the crime scene.

“This was in a rural part of the county, just inside the Johnston County line,” said Caldwell. ”There were no surveillance cameras. At this point, we’re still trying to determine who transported the victim to the location.”

Caldwell said that person, once located, might face criminal charges.

Chatham said her daughter was a good mother, daughter, aunt and friend. Chatham said Jennifer tried to help addicts get clean. One website had a list of testimonials honoring her. During Jennifer’s funeral visitation, her mother greeted Jennifer’s friends for more than three hours.

Chatham said her daughter had been sober for three years before 2018. That year marked the 10th anniversary of her father’s death. Chatham said her daughter never recovered from his sudden death at age 45 and said twice last year, “I’m going to see my Dad.”

She wants people learn from her daughter’s story and is concerned about the growing opioid epidemic.

“She was very loving and friendly and a spitfire, tell you exactly what was on her mind, what she thought,” said Chatham. “If someone did something wrong in recovery, she would call them out. There were so many stories.”

Chatham said her daughter was an awesome person.

“She was a dear friend to many people,” said Chatham “Just because you make a few wrong choices doesn’t make you a bad person. Mental health and addiction are very serious. With this opioid epidemic, (we could) lose a generation or two if we don’t do something.”

Chatham said when her daughter was on drugs, she would drop out of sight. They communicated by Facebook. Their last communication was on Dec. 26.

“I messaged her and said, ‘Christmas wasn’t same without you.’ I hope she had a good day,” Chatham recalled. “‘Jennifer responded, ‘I had no gifts, but I did get a warm meal. I miss you so much, Mom.’”

Chatham said she responded, “‘I bought you gifts and I’m waiting here for you at home if you want a different life. I love you very much.’ Jennifer saw it but didn’t respond. That was our last communication.”

Jennifer left behind two sons, ages 16 and 14, and an 8-year-old daughter.

Although she struggled with addiction in 2018, she still managed to earn her GED at Wake Technical Community College. Chatham said she had dropped out of high school two weeks before graduation.

Chatham said her daughter was working as a restaurant server but quit her job in January 2018.

The sheriff’s office determined “there was no concern for foul play,” according to the autopsy report.

Anyone with information on Jennifer Chatham’s death is asked to call the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office at 919-989-5010.