Killing of Black, gay Ole Miss student has school's LGBTQ community 'terrified,' his former roommate says
- Jimmie "Jay" Lee went missing July 8, and a former student was later charged with his murder.
- Lee was known for performing in drag and inspired others on campus who identify as LGBTQ.
The LGBTQ community at the University of Mississippi is "terrified" following what prosecutors say was the July murder of Jimmie "Jay" Lee, a 20-year-old gay, Black student, his former roommate told Insider.
"For a lot of gay people there, we're scared," said Braylyn Johnson, a Black former student at Ole Miss who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. "Especially for gay Black men. They're scared. They're terrified."
Two weeks after Lee went missing July 8, police arrested Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a recent graduate of the university, and charged him with Lee's murder, according to a statement from the Oxford Police Department. Authorities said they still have not recovered Lee's body and that the search is ongoing.
Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Gray Tollison denied Herrington's request for bond Thursday on the grounds that he was a flight risk, according to court documents. The case now goes to a grand jury.
At Herrington's bond hearing Tuesday, WLOX reported that prosecutors displayed Snapchat messages between Herrington and Lee talking about "hooking up" and showed video of a police interview in which Harrington says he had been in a sexual relationship with Lee.
Prosecutors said Herrington's motive for committing first-degree murder was his fear of being outed, the station reported, and that he googled "how long does it take to strangle someone gabby petito" at 5:56 a.m., just two minutes before Lee was last seen alive on surveillance footage — leaving his apartment in a silver robe, a gold sleeping cap, and slippers, according to police.
In the days after Lee's disappearance, police found Lee's car at a local towing company, having been removed the day Lee went missing from the Molly Barr Trails apartment complex, about two miles from where he lived.
At the time, authorities believed Lee may have been visiting a home there.
But in court Tuesday, prosecutors presented video footage from 7:25 a.m. that morning, narrated by a detective saying it shows Herrington driving Lee's car to the apartment complex but never going inside and then, shortly afterward, someone jogging away in a gray hoodie and flagging down a ride at a nearby gas station. Prosecutors said the driver knew Herrington and offered to take him home.
They also showed photos that they alleged depict Herrington preparing to dispose of Lee's body and said police dogs caught the scent of a cadaver inside Herrington's apartment, work truck, and SUV — where investigators also found suspicious strands of hair.
Herrington's attorney, Kevin Horan, did not immediately return Insider's request for comment.
A University of Mississippi spokesperson said in a statement to Insider that Lee's death was "heartbreaking."
"The university will continue to support our community through this process, defer to the lead of law enforcement as they search for Jay, and continue to promote a campus community that is welcoming to all," the statement read.
But as fall approaches, Johnson said some students feel unwelcomed and afraid.
"There are people who don't want to come back to school in less that two weeks because of how scared they are," she said.
Beyond the fear Lee's killing has caused, his death has hit particularly hard because as a "Black, gay man in Mississippi" who frequently performed in drag under the name Jay Divaa, he was an inspiration to other queer people in Oxford, where the University of Mississippi is located, Johnson said — remembering her friend as always dressed to the nines in a full face of makeup.
"It didn't matter what time of the day it was," she said.
Lee, a social work major, was no wallflower. He campaigned to be the University of Mississippi homecoming king in 2021 and received more than 45% of the initial vote, forcing a runoff with his opponent before losing the final election, according to the school's student newspaper.
"He wanted to make Oxford his home, and for him to do that, it was going to take him to be that advocate and to be that change to make it comfortable, not tolerated, for gay people to live here, comfortable for us to live here," Johson said.
On Thursday night, friends gathered at Proud Larry's, a restaurant and bar in Oxford, to honor Lee's memory and raise money for his family. They put on an show featuring local drag performers including Spencer Pleasants, whose stage name is Amnesia Devereux.
Pleasants wrote on Instagram that "there was no place for sorrow or woe," but rather "various expressions of how what has recently occurred in Oxford effected us."
"We miss our divine friend and sister," Pleasants wrote.
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