WATERLOO, Ala. – Police in Tennessee say the motel room of a missing waitress and former homecoming queen from Alabama indicates that foul play may have been involved in her disappearance.
Jennifer Lee Hampton, 21, hasn't been seen since she disappeared from the Days Inn in Knoxville last weekend, leaving friends and relatives worried about what may have happened to the petite young woman.
Hampton was on a business trip when she vanished.
"You just don't think of something like this happening to someone you know. It's got the entire town in a shock," said former schoolmate Jennifer Price, who is director of the Waterloo Senior Citizens Center in Waterloo, Ala., the tiny Tennessee River town where Hampton is from.
Knoxville police are treating the disappearance as a missing persons case and are talking to possible witnesses and searching wooded areas near the motel where Hampton was last seen at 9 p.m. Friday, according to spokesman Darrell DeBusk.
Evidence from the room indicated foul play, he said. He declined to discuss what was found but said it was critical to the case.
Police already have obtained some results from forensics tests, he said, but he would not elaborate. And they're trying to piece together a timeline of what Hampton was doing in the days leading up to her disappearance.
"We're interviewing a variety of individuals — family, friends, just anyone who can help us build a timeline leading up to when she was last seen," DeBusk said.
Hampton disappeared from a Days Inn late Friday or early Saturday, authorities said. She is employed by Mama Blue's Buffet in Florence, and traveled to Knoxville with her boss, Jim Lewis, and two other coworkers to help open a restaurant.
Lewis, who operates restaurants in Florence and Decatur, said the group had mostly stayed together. He told the TimesDaily newspaper in Florence that the group had exchanged many calls and text messages.
"When Jennifer didn't show up Saturday morning, we started looking for her," Lewis said.
He said the last time anyone in the group had heard from Hampton was about 11:30 p.m. Friday.
Waterloo High School Principal Ray Harrison said the mood is "very surreal" as people await word in the town of about 200 in extreme northwest Alabama.
"We're a small school, so a lot of the kids and the teachers knew her, and in fact she has a niece in kindergarten. So this has really affected our school," he said.
Police described Hampton as 5-foot-3, weighing 110 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes.
Hampton's mother and stepfather, Cynthia and Tim Senn, and other family members arrived Monday in Knoxville. A friend who drove the family there said they were busy putting up flyers of Hampton.
Assistant Principal Mike Stamps, who taught Hampton for three years, described her as determined.
"It was obvious; she was always trying to improve," he said. "When she came to Waterloo she was shy, introverted, didn't talk a lot and was stretched academically. But within a couple of years she came out of her shell and became homecoming queen."
Morgan Stricklin, who also was on the homecoming court at Waterloo, said she last heard from Hampton about 7:30 p.m. Friday in a text message. She got news of her friend's disappearance Monday.
"I was shocked. I really couldn't believe what I was told," she said. "I had to go to Wal-Mart and while I was there I ran into several people that we knew and that's all they wanted to talk about. It's just horrible."