The loved ones of three women found dead under mysterious circumstances in a North Carolina city marred with violence had held out hope that the questions they’d struggled with since receiving the devastating news would be answered in their autopsy reports.
How did they die? Did they suffer? How did they wind up naked and alone in places where their loved ones say they’d never willingly go?
“We aren’t getting help,” Shelia Price, the mother of Rhonda Jones, told InsideEdition.com.
Jones, 36, and Kristin “Christina” Bennett, 32, were found dead 50 yards apart from each other in Lumberton on April 18, 2017.
Bennett was found inside a home on Peachtree Street, while Jones was found nearby in a garbage container with the address of the same home painted on its side, according to court documents.
The body of Megan Oxendine, 28, was found about two city blocks away on June 3. Her death came several weeks after she had spoken on the news about Jones’s death.
The causes of the three women’s deaths and the details of their autopsy reports remained unknown for more than year, with each passing day its own version of torture for their grieving families and friends.
“It’s not right,” Ciera Oxendine, one of Megan’s sisters, said of the time she and her family have had to wait for results.
But the much-anticipated release of the autopsy and toxicology reports this week offered little in the way of answers, as the cause and manner of all three women’s deaths were officially classified as undetermined.
The reports noted that Bennett was found naked and wrapped in a grey blanket inside a television cabinet in an abandoned home, which was being investigated as Jones’s own unclothed body was discovered.
Oxendine’s body, which was also nude, was discovered outside an abandoned home and was partially obscured by tree branches and roof shingles surrounded by overgrown grass and weeds.
Traces of cocaine were found in their systems, but the coroner said drug use could not be ruled as the reason for their deaths. The three bodies were decomposed but in all three cases, the medical examiner noted “the possibility of external factors contributing to the death … cannot be excluded.”
Such external factors included “asphyxial injury,” or any injury caused by tissue oxygen deprivation and can include covering a person’s nose and mouth, or strangulation.
“Yes, they did drugs, but drugs did not kill them,” Price said. “We’ve got three girls who’re otherwise perfectly healthy crawl up in weird, filthy places and die? Someone has killed these girls.”
Jones was also found to have suffered cuts to her nose, which was fractured, cuts to her forehead and cuts to her chin, as well as two abrasions on her upper back. It was not clear when she suffered those injuries, but her mother told InsideEdition.com she interpreted them as proof that her daughter was attacked.
“I know somebody beat my [child] and threw her in a trashcan,” Price said, fighting back tears. “Rhonda didn’t deserve this. Nobody does.”
The women’s families also questioned the amount of time it took for their autopsy reports to be released.
Though the autopsies were released this week, the medical examiner’s office in February had reached the point where they were prepared to make their findings public, according to court documents obtained by InsideEdition.com.
A state investigator with the North Carolina Judicial Branch had filed a motion to seal the medical examiner’s records, writing that releasing the reports would have had an “inherently negative effect” on the FBI’s canvas of the area scheduled for the following month.
During that canvas, the FBI said it knocked on 800 doors and conducted 500 interviews. The bureau has also offered a $30,000 reward for information to help “determine the circumstances that led to the deaths of Christina Bennett, Rhonda Jones and Megan Oxendine.”
The FBI has received a number of tips since announcing the reward, but they are yet to provide the information needed to determine the causes of death for any of the women, an FBI spokeswoman told InsideEdition.com earlier this year.
The silence has been deafening for the women’s families, who said they’re done waiting for answers.
“I will fight for Rhonda until my last breath," Price said. “My child didn’t deserve this, and we aren’t getting help. So I'm not stopping now, for sure."