Community comes together to inspire hope amongst UM student Jay Lee’s disappearance

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The community gathered in The Circle at the University of Mississippi on Wednesday night for the “Hope for Jay Lee Rally.”

The rally was announced in hopes that family, friends and classmates of missing Ole Miss student Jimmie “Jay” Lee, 20, would draw strength from coming together and supporting one another. 

“Hope for Jay Lee” was organized through the collaborative efforts of the UM Department of Social Work’s faculty, staff and students. The event was led by Ole Miss student and peer of Jay Lee, Kara Gallagher.

The rally was opened with a prayer and then followed by speeches from Ole Miss faculty and staff. After the speeches, organizers prepared bubbles and music by Lee’s favorite artists like Ariana Grande and Beyoncé to maintain the message of hope. The event came to a close with a final prayer from one of Lee’s peers.

BSW Field Education Director Jennifer Buford said they were motivated to help the students find a positive way to cope with Lee’s unexplained disappearance.

“We came together to talk with the students to see how they were doing and after hearing how they were doing with the coping, we wanted to talk about what can we do to be more proactive and change what we were doing into something that’s more positive,” said Buford.

The rally focused on, as it says in the name, hope.

Buford said Lee is working to finish the Bachelor of Social Work Program and is currently interning with the county Child Protective Services agency. Lee had also been accepted in to the Masters of Social Work Program and was looking forward to beginning the next step in his education.

“Our hope is that we can aspire,” she said. “This search will continue and we will continue to be optimistic about his return. He had a strong presence in our department, in the university community and in Oxford. You only had to meet him once.”

Classmate and Dept. of Social Work employee Precious Thompson attended class with Lee and delivered the final prayer at the rally. According to Thompson, Lee is an outgoing person who is always willing to help anyone, friend or stranger.

“He sat behind me and he fixed my hair under my cap saying ‘Miss Precious, you need to fix your hair,'” Thompson recounted. “So he would fix my hair. He was so outgoing and he was proud of who he was. He wasn’t ashamed. He was always glamour and glitz. I mean, he was just Jay.”

Incoming Ole Miss freshman Blake Williamson did meet Lee just once and he said the meeting showed him how kind Lee is.

“I met him one time at a Code Pink event and we spoke very briefly, but he was very sweet and very engaging,” said Williamson. “He was just going around meeting people being nice. I’ve never really kept in touch with him but I just knew he was a good person. And like I said, I just wanted to show my family even though his family that even though I didn’t know him, well, I would still support them just because he showed that like one act of kindness to me.

In a show of support, Williamson drew a portrait of Lee and gifted it to his parents at the rally.

“I actually draw a lot of people,” he said. “Usually those people that have passed away or they’re missing, or they’re in a really hard time, I usually draw people and their family relatives for them. It means a lot more for somebody to draw something for somebody rather than just giving them a photo because it shows that that person cares they put the time to make it look exactly like their loved one.

“Even though I don’t know Jay Lee or his family that well,” said Williamson, “I just knew that his family needs all the support they can get and just by me drawing that one picture, it shows that somebody is invested in somebody and somebody cares.”

Lee’s parents Jimmie and Stephanie Lee declined to directly comment to the media, however, they prepared a speech read by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Charlotte Pegues. The statement reads as follows:

“We want to thank Jenifer Buford and Jay’s classmates from the social work department for this gathering for Jay (Hope Rally to Bring Jay Home). Thanks to Chancellor Glenn Boyce, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Jim Zook, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charlotte Pegues and to Kimbrlei McCain from UMatter for all the accommodations you’ve provided and concern you’ve shown.

“Thank you to the Oxford Police Department, especially Detective Rusty, and the University Police Department for their work in the ongoing investigation to find Jay,” the statement continued. “A special thanks to the mayor of Oxford for reaching out to us personally. We’re thankful to everyone: family, friends and communities from all over that have shown so much love and concern. Thank you all.”

Lee’s parents stated Jay is a “special kind of person.”

“Jay has a deep passion for whatever he’s working on. Just yesterday my husband and I had to go through some Amazon packages that Jay had previously ordered,” Lee’s parents stated. “We were overwhelmed in seeing how he was ordering baby items out of his own pocket to give out to children in need. That’s the kind of guy he is. It’s our prayer that Jay Lee comes home safe and sound. Thank You.”

Lee was last seen leaving Campus Walks Apartments at 5:58 a.m. on Friday, July 8 wearing a silver robe or housecoat, gold sleeping cap and gray slippers.

His vehicle was recovered Monday, July 11, from a local towing company that had removed the car from the Molly Barr Trails apartment complex on Friday afternoon. Lee’s vehicle was taken to the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory for processing.

Police believe Lee may have been visiting someone at Molly Barr Trails at the time of his disappearance.

He is described as being 5-foot, 7-inches tall, weighing 120 pounds, with black and blonde hair and brown eyes. 

The Oxford Police and University Police departments’ joint investigation is ongoing and both have brought in the Oxford FBI office and Attorney General in the search for Lee.

As of Tuesday, July 19, officers are continuing to follow up on all tips, reviewing data from returned digital warrants, awaiting numerous other digital warrants, conducting area searches, and obtaining and reviewing additional video footage.

If anyone has any information regarding Lee’s whereabouts or his activities on Friday, they are asked to call Oxford Police Department at 662-232-2400; University Police Department at 662-915-7234; or Crime Stoppers at 662-234-8477. Information and tips also can be shared via social media: Facebook: @OxfordMSPolice or @OleMissPolice or Twitter: @OxfordPolice or @OleMissPolice.

The Lee family is offering a $5,000 reward and the Lafayette County Crimestoppers is offering a $1,000 reward.

If the public would like to directly help the family of Jay Lee, a GoFundMe has been organized to support the family as they continue their search. The goal is to raise $5,000. Of that goal, the page has raised $2,742 since it’s creation on July 15. Visit the GoFundMe page at gofund.me/0f9dc61e.