Cause of Chris Jenkins’ death is still a mystery

Hennepin County medical examiners and a Milwaukee examiner are conducting the autopsy.

by Rocky Thompson

Though police recovered his body from the Mississippi River in February, Chris Jenkins’ family still does not know how he died.

“It’s taking as long to get results as it did to find him, said Steve Jenkins, Chris’ father.

“You think it would get easier by the day, but it’s just getting harder,” he said.

Hennepin County medical examiners are conducting the autopsy alongside a Milwaukee medical examiner at the request of the Jenkins family.

The Milwaukee examiner is working as a consultant and will also review the autopsy test results.

“I knew it’d take a long time to get the results,” said Angela McArthur, assistant dire-ctor of anatomy bequest at the University and a former Ramsey Cou-nty medical examiner.

Typically, autopsies go through three stages, she said.

First, there is a check with the naked eye when the body and organs are examined and weighed.

Then there is a microscopic examination of tissue and, finally, a toxicology exam.

During the microscopic examination, she said, segments of tissue are preserved and examined for cellular abnormalities that might indicate pneumonia or other diseases.

McArthur said it is not uncommon for the toxicology exam, when the body is checked for alcohol and drugs, to take a few months.

During the toxicology exam, pathologists try to collect vitreous humor from the eye, urine from the bladder, and blood, all of which are often difficult to obtain, she said, especially when a body has been underwater for a long time.

She said when examiners cannot obtain blood or urine, they are forced to examine liver and muscle tissue to look for the presence of drugs or other factors that could contribute to death.

If a test comes back positive, she said, examiners need further research to quantify the amount of drugs in a person’s system.

She said to determine a cause of death as drowning is difficult.

“Drowning is a diagnosis of exclusion,” she said. “You have to exclude everything else.”

Michael Noll, a 22-year-old Rochester, Minn., native attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, disappeared after leaving a bar Nov. 6. His body was recovered from a lake March 25.

Within days, officials said preliminary autopsy findings listed the probable cause of death as drowning.

Josh Guimond, a 20-year-old St. John’s University student who disappeared Nov. 9 after leaving an on-campus party in Collegeville, Minn., has still not been found.

Police and his family and friends continue to look for his body around the lakes and river in Collegeville.

Trauma, foul play, drug overdose or any natural death must be ruled out before drowning can be given as a cause of death, McArthur said.

In April, Steve Jenkins said when he learned the autopsy results, he would immediately post the cause of death on a Web site dedicated to Chris’ memory, but the Web site shut down after four months. He said the family hopes to announce the cause of death in a few weeks.

Steve Jenkins said the family will be on hand May 18 when Chris will receive an honorary degree from the Carlson School of Management, the first such degree it has granted.

“Right now there is no closure,” he said. “With no closure, there can be no healing.”

Rocky Thompson covers police and crime and welcomes comments at [email protected]