MINNEAPOLIS - University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins died after he was thrown off a bridge in downtown Minneapolis four years ago, police said Monday, and they apologized for first suspecting his death was a suicide or accident.
A "suspect/witness" is in custody in another state on an unrelated charge, said Sgt. Pete Jackson, the lead homicide investigator on the case. Jackson said he also wants to talk to another eyewitness who's not in custody. He was deliberately vague on what their roles might be, but said they have pointed the finger at each other.
Jackson declined to say when any charges might be filed.
Jenkins, a 21-year-old business senior, disappeared after leaving the Lone Tree Bar & Grill in downtown Minneapolis on Halloween night 2002.
His body was found in the Mississippi River nearly four months later, still wearing his American Indian costume. An autopsy determined he had drowned, but his manner of death was listed as undetermined, and police closed the case.
The parents of Jenkins, a native of Eden Prairie, Minn., were living in Racine County at the time of his disappearance. They have since moved back to Minnesota.
On Friday, police said they had reclassified Jenkins' death as a homicide, bringing vindication to Jenkins' parents, Jan and Steve Jenkins, of Savage, Minn., formerly of the Town of Rochester. The parents had fought to establish that the death was a homicide, going as far as hiring a private detective.
At a news conference Monday, Police Chief Tim Dolan apologized to Jenkins' family.
"When we are investigating a case, we will obviously do the best we can, but we're going to occasionally make mistakes. In Chris Jenkins' case we did make a mistake. We made an assumption. Because of that assumption, we probably caused pain - well I know we caused pain - to the Jenkins family. More pain than they had to suffer, than they already suffered."
Jackson and Lt. Lee Edwards, head of the homicide unit, said they know many things they can't disclose yet because the investigation isn't over and only a few people have direct knowledge about the details. But Jackson said he received information from a source in 2005 who had heard a "10th-hand" rumor. Jackson said he conducted several interviews across the country and slowly developed both a suspect and an eyewitness.
Jackson declined to disclose the motive for the crime, or even specify which bridge Jenkins was thrown from, but said neither man they're looking at knew Jenkins.
The "suspect/witness" is imprisoned in another state, Jackson said. He would only say it was "one of the 50 states." He also said it's not exactly clear what that man's role was.
"It kind of depends on who you're talking to as to whether or not that person fits into the category of witness or a suspect," he said. He acknowledged that the man in custody "might have an incentive" to point the finger at someone else.
The Jenkins case was one of several in the Midwest of college students and other young adults who disappeared in recent years, often after nights out that involved drinking. Some of them were found dead in rivers, and there's been speculation that there might be a link.
But Jackson said they had nothing to connect Jenkins' death with any of the others, though he didn't rule it out.
"Chris' death at this time is not linked to any of these other deaths, especially there's quite a few involving college students," Jackson said. "I have been contacted today quite a bit by other agencies from around the Midwest. We've had several deaths involving college students. But there's nothing at this time to connect Chris' death between the others."
Jenkins' parents, who laughed often and cried at times during the news conference, hugged police officials and said they now understand why investigators had shared so little information with them. They said they accepted the apology.
Jan Jenkins said it often was hard to keep up hope, and that they frequently felt frustration and exhaustion, but they never gave up.
"It would take one look at a picture of our son, or a memory, or to see the pain in his sister's eyes, and I'd be back on track," she said, her voice choking and her eyes welling with tears.
Both parents also teared up as Edwards brought out a book titled "Live Learn Lead to Make a Difference," which he said he keeps very close and has been reading a lot. He didn't specify who gave him the book, but the parents' expressions indicated they were familiar with it.
"And it's inscribed to me," Edwards said. "It says: 'Lieutenant Edwards, keep leading with faith and courage. What you do matters. See ya later, Chris Jenkins."'