As police continue to investigate the disappearance of Jimmie “Jay” Lee – the 20-year-old University of Mississippi student who has been missing for a week – his friends and family are organizing search parties and passing out fliers in Oxford.
Some of Lee’s classmates have also started a GoFundMe to support his family.
Lee, a Black student who is well-known in the college town’s LGBT community, was last seen on Friday, July 8, at 5:58 a.m. leaving his home at Campus Walk Apartments, according to the Oxford Police Department.
He was wearing a silver robe or housecoat, a gold cap or bonnet, and gray slippers.
Police think Lee may have driven to Molly Barr Trails, a student apartment complex seven minutes away from Campus Walk where his car was towed in the afternoon of July 8. Police found his car at a towing company three days later, and it’s now at the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory for processing.
The University of Mississippi Police Department, which is working with OPD to find Lee, received the first report that he was missing on Friday, July 8, at 8:28 p.m., according to an incident report.
The report, one sentence long, shows that officer John Boyd conducted a welfare check at Lee’s apartment that night but there was “negative contact.”
As the family looks for Lee, they’ve increased the reward to $5,000. Crimestoppers, a nonprofit that supports law enforcement, has pledged a $1,000 reward for finding Lee.
Lee was spending the summer in Oxford finishing his bachelor’s degree in social work. He is already accepted into UM’s masters program in social work and is scheduled to start this fall.
The day he went missing, Lee was supposed to go to a donation drive for baby formula that he organized as part of a summer internship with the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services in Lafayette County.
Over the last week, Lee’s family and friends have organized search parties and passed out fliers looking for him.
“This is a loving, caring person that would give you the shirt off his back if you need it,” Tayla Carey, Lee’s sister, told Mississippi Today. “His family is in desperate need of finding him and just making sure he returns safely.”
When Carey talked with Mississippi Today this Friday morning, she was getting ready to drive to Oxford from Ridgeland for another search party that would meet at the Walmart on West Jackson Ave. She said the family needs more volunteers to help pass out fliers and that anyone who wants to help can contact her on Facebook.
Carey said she found out that Lee was missing in the evening on July 8 when her mom called to ask if she’d spoken to him that day. The last thing the family heard from Lee, Carey said, was at 2 a.m. on July 8, when he’d texted his mom to wish her happy birthday.
The family’s theory is that Lee had gone to get coffee or visit a friend early in the morning on Friday, because he was last seen wearing sleepwear. It wasn’t unusual for him to be up that early, but he left behind his dog, Lexus Lola.
“My little brother, he is the type of person, he’s not gonna leave the house unless he is ten-ten,” Carey said. “I’m talking his dress, his make up. He’s not gonna leave his house until he makes sure he looks good. For him to walk out the door in a house bonnet, a housecoat and his slippers – that lets us know he was going to get coffee or he was going to meet someone that he trusted.”
Lee was an active member of UM’s student government association and served as the director of LGBTQ Outreach. His family and friends describe him as a confident person who often wears acrylic nails and long, blonde hair.
Friends and family say that many people in Oxford, a small-town that revolves around the university, are terrified for Lee.
On Thursday night, Kristy Durkin, a professor of social work at UM who taught Lee, went to put up fliers with Alexis Parker, one of Lee’s classmates. They printed more than 50 fliers and taped them up at the central bus transit station, at restaurants and inside men’s bathrooms at Lee’s favorite bars on the Square.
“There was one point I just kind of broke down and cried,” Durkin said. “Everywhere we went, (people asked) have you heard anything, (and said) well put ’em (the fliers) up.”
At one point in the evening, they put up fliers in a restaurant where three police officers were eating dinner. One of the officers walked over and said they were praying for Lee.
Parker said she found out Lee was missing on Sunday, July 10, when the university sent out a campus-wide email about his disappearance. She’s driven past Molly Barr Trail every day this week. On Wednesday, she saw Desoto County sheriff officers walking dogs through the complex. She said an officer told her they didn’t find anything.
Today in class, Parker said her classmates talked about Lee and how they can help his family in the search. They decided to make a GoFundMe to help his family pay for gas and food.
OPD has put out several press releases over the last week about its efforts to find Lee. On July 12, the department said it was “utilizing all available resources to track tips, potential witnesses, speaking with friends, running search warrants, canvassing areas, and collecting evidence.”
OPD’s most recent update, on Thursday, July 14, says the department has conducted “numerous” interviews and is waiting for information to be returned from “around a dozen” search warrants it has “executed on both physical and digital entities.”
Carey said Lee’s family is receiving the same updates from the police as the public.
“They are doing their part, they are helping us as much as they can,” she said. “It’s a waiting game, we’re playing the waiting game.”
Meanwhile, Lee’s family and friends are still searching for him. On Wednesday, OPD released a video of Lee’s dad pleading for help finding Lee. He reads from a statement on the back of an aquamarine flier that Lee created to advertise the baby formula donation drive.
“I can remember my son coming to this college, you know, being willing to face the unknown without a problem. I’m so proud of him for that. I want everyone to know … he was there to help if he saw the need,” he said.
“I’m asking that, if anyone knows anything or sees anything, say something. Call, contact the law enforcement. Just tell them what you know. This is my plea that you help find my child.”