A few days before Mother’s Day, 20-year-old Jessica Lynn Lee got into an argument with her mother about caring for Lee’s baby and took off.
It was a familiar, if infrequent, scene between them. They would fight over small stuff — using the computer, following house rules — and Lee would leave. She always came home to Brooklyn Park a few days later, though, sometimes spending the night in the woods near her house or with whomever she met along the way, while her mother cared for infant Maygan.
But this time was different. Lee never came home.
On Friday, Anne Arundel County police identified the decapitated remains found behind a Pasadena shopping center earlier this month as those of Jessica Lee. The news stunned her mother, Ann Burke.
“I was keeping hope; now my hope’s gone,” she said, her voice breaking. “We don’t know what happened. It’s a homicide investigation now.”
A man who had been walking into the woods behind Ollie’s Bargain Outlet on the 8100 block of Ritchie Highway called police Aug. 6 after discovering a human skull. Authorities organized a search team and brought in cadaver dogs to look for the rest of the body, recovered in the woods after an “extensive search,” police said in a statement.
The office of the chief medical examiner preliminarily ruled the death a homicide due to “trauma to the upper body,” police said. Crime lab workers identified the remains as Lee’s through a DNA comparison and informed her family Friday morning.
Burke and her parents, who share a house, were still processing the information when news media began calling that afternoon. Burke had reported her daughter missing more than three months ago, after Lee failed to call following the May 8 argument.
“She always calls me; no matter where my daughter goes, she calls me,” Burke said.
Sometimes, she’d borrow a stranger’s cellphone to do it, said her grandmother, Barbara Burke, sitting at the family dining table Friday. Lee was constantly using up her minutes as soon as she got them, and would have to go without each month until a new supplemental security income check came.
Lee was diagnosed with a developmental disability in school, her mother said, and operated at a 14-year-old’s level.
The women described Lee as friendly to a fault.
“Jessica was a kind, loving person — she trusted everybody,” her grandmother said. She talked to everyone, she said, and brought home strays — both pets and people.
“She was very lovable, she just wanted to be accepted,” Ann Burke said.
When Lee went missing, her family launched a search on their own while police investigated, combing through the woods and going to Lee’s favorite places — Marley Station Mall, the library and even the Glen Burnie Carnival, which opened for a week in late July.
“Any carnival that came to town, she always went,” said Burke, who brought a North County High School photo of her blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter to the fair, hoping someone would recognize the young woman.
But she got few leads, and police haven’t told her much, she said. She doesn’t yet know when Lee died or how the investigation is proceeding. A police spokesman said Friday that he had no further information.
Ann Burke is now caring for Maygan, 16 months, full time.
“They took my daughter from me and her mom from her,” she said, urging anyone with information to contact police.
“I’m just trying to find out who did this and bring him to justice,” Ann Burke said. “She don’t do nothing to anybody. She’s a happy-go-lucky kid. I don’t understand why they would hurt her.”
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