Minneapolis police apologize, say student's death a homicide

Jan and Steve Jenkins
Jan and Steve Jenkins address the news media after Minneapolis police officials apologized and said their son's death is now considered a homicide.
MPR Photo

When Tim Dolan sat down in front of the microphones, a dozen or more cameras were trained on him, but he looked at none of them. Instead, Minneapolis Police Chief Dolan fixed his gaze to his left, where Jan and Steve Jenkins, Chris' parents, were sitting. The chief said the police department sometimes makes mistakes and had done so in the case of Chris' death, which investigators decided was either an accident or suicide.

"We made an assumption," said Dolan. "And because of that assumption, we probably caused pain -- well, I know we caused pain -- in the Jenkins family. More pain than they had to suffer and than they already suffered. And for that, for the Minneapolis Police Department, I want to apologize to the Jenkins family."

Chris Jenkins was last seen leaving a downtown Minneapolis bar on Halloween night four years ago. His body was discovered four months later along the Mississippi River, still clad in his Halloween costume. A police lieutenant says the cause of death was listed as drowning. The manner of death was listed as unknown but was thought to be an accident or suicide and the case was closed.

But Steve and Jan Jenkins strongly suspected their son was killed. They even hired a private investigator to pursue the matter. After a couple of years the police were back on the case. Sgt. Pete Jackson says he returned to it after receiving a tip last year.

"This person has given me very specific details of the exact spot where Christopher Jenkins was thrown off of a bridge. I'll just leave it at that."

"A source brought me a rumor," Jackson said. "Just a faint rumor of something that they'd heard -- that somebody said somebody said something. It was about tenth-hand. And at that point I decided I needed to just kind of go and take a look at this. Because prior to that we really had no idea, really, how Chris ended up in the river."

Now investigators apparently have some very specific ideas about what happened to Chris Jenkins on that Halloween night. Most of their theories will remain undisclosed unless or until authorities file a criminal charge. Jackson did reveal, though, that police are talking to a man he described as an "eyewitness-slash-suspect."

Jackson says the man is incarcerated for a separate crime. He says the man has knowledge of the crime scene - including its location - but his role in Jenkins' death is not yet clear.

"This person has given me very specific details of the exact spot where Christopher Jenkins was thrown off of a bridge. I'll just leave it at that," Jackson said.

Media attention to Jenkins' death burgeoned last week when police reclassified the case as a homicide. Jan and Steve Jenkins say they're glad Minneapolis police are back on the case and are investigating it as a killing. Jan Jenkins told reporters that she accepts Chief Dolan's apology and says the family has worked to build a relationship with the police department. For a time during a city hall news conference she clasped the hand of Lt. Lee Edwards as he discussed her son's death.

When it was her turn to speak, Jenkins told reporters probing for details of the investigation that the family has none to offer because police have shared very little of what they've learned. Jenkins has no complaint with that, saying she doesn't want anything to interfere with the effort to prosecute whoever killed her son.

"I'm glad they have not given us any additional information either," she said. "If they had, I wouldn't tell you anyway. But I'm glad they haven't because I don't want to ever unbeknownst do anything that would hurt this."

Police sergeant Jackson says keeping details of the crime out of the news media makes it more likely that anyone who is familiar with specifics of Chris Jenkins' death came by the knowledge first-hand.