‘This Is Not a Rare Story’: Friends of Jay Lee Seek Truth, Justice for Missing Oxford Man

The bedazzled silver skirt, hair jewels, and a black mesh top worn by Jay Lee, a regular Code Pink performer, sparkled in the light as they emerged from backstage at The Lyric, a monthly dance event known as Code Pink Oxford. This event highlights aspiring drag queens and provides a secure environment for members of the local LGBTQIA+ community.

Reyes Jose described it as “captivating”, his performances were; Lee Jay was considered a staple of Oxford Pink Code for a reason. Lee Jay danced and strutted to the music with all the skill of a seasoned drag performer, and the crowd roared. As Lee Jay took center stage, music from his personal playlist of iconic pop divas like Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande blared from the speakers.

In 2019, during December of his third year, Reyes, a student at the University of Mississippi and a close companion of Jay Lee, witnessed his performance for the first time. Reyes expressed, “Witnessing one of his acts was all it took for me to gather the courage to step onto that stage myself. By then, it was only Jay Lee’s second show.”

It was so much fun. He is the one who got me out of my shell. I vividly remember that night when we instantly took shots to kill the jitters, and we got ready in his tiny apartment when we performed for the first time ever as Lyric.

Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr
Jay Lee’s graduation photo now sits on the memorial table at Code Pink, a monthly dance event at The Lyric in Oxford, Miss., as a way to keep the missing man a part of the event where he used to love to perform. Photo courtesy Justice for Jay Lee Movement

Lee Jay, a friend of Johnson Braylyn, confidently expressed himself on stage and was truly exceptional.

He just wanted everyone to have a good time. They were always one of his favorites; whether it be songs or little things like his hair, he would put personal touches in. You can feel and see the personal touches, and when you go back, you can watch his drag performances.

They are left only with his memory. Instead of dancing or laughing with him, Lee’s friends and family are taking donations and sharing his story with patrons. Sitting at a memorial table next to a sign that reads “JUSTICE FOR JAY LEE,” there is a picture of him onstage during his graduation, instead of performing. Today, Jay Lee is still a part of Pink Code, albeit in a much different way.

“We had to do what was right. We had to step up. He should be here with us, shouldn’t he? Johnson said, ‘Isn’t it fair?'”

‘Suddenly, There Was Disorder’

On July 8, 2022, the lives of many were forever altered when Jimmie “Jay” Lee, a 20-year-old student from Jackson, Mississippi, and attending the University of Mississippi, went missing from his apartment on Campus Walk. The initial reports documented the frantic search efforts by the Oxford Police Department, as well as the desperate search conducted by his family and friends. Lee was last seen wearing only gray slippers and a silver and gold bonnet.

Braylyn Johnson, his companion, expressed, “I was astounded,” recollecting the moment she discovered that her comrade and previous housemate had vanished. “I couldn’t accept it. I assumed it was a prank. I noticed the advertisement and simply assumed I could contact him later that night and he would respond, thus resolving the bewilderment.”

Several individuals were taken into custody, including 22-year-old Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr. From Grenada, Mississippi. The Oxford Eagle revealed that this information was not disclosed until July 22nd, followed by another delay of one week.

“He was accused of homicide,” Johnson mentioned, “and immediately, there was pandemonium.”

A back view of four people sitting on a courtroom bench
Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., 22, was arraigned on first-degree charges for allegedly killing Jimmie “Jay” Lee on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Here he exits the Lafayette County Courthouse after his hearing that day; he is currently out on bond. Photo by Grace Marion

In August 2022, Herrington has not yet found any evidence against Jay Lee’s body as the prosecution’s case, even though his family is present in the courtroom.

Johnson recalls the sense of urgency that arose within her due to the necessity of taking action. She also witnessed an abundance of racist, homophobic, and transphobic remarks that followed Herrington’s apprehension. Herrington, who actively uses platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, faced a barrage of hateful and discriminatory comments. The latter platform, in particular, swiftly transformed into a breeding ground for intolerance and prejudice. Local news sources consistently provided updates on the case through various mediums, including print and their social media channels.

She said, “There was a lot of missing discourse while Jay was gone for two weeks.” “It was just people wanting to find her son, a mother wanting to be reunited with her college student family, or people wanting to find her son.” “But everything switched when Herrington was arrested at that point.”

A sign with a $1000 reward to find Jay Lee
The family of Jimmie “Jay” Lee looked on in court as the bond hearing and preliminary trial of the man accused of killing him unfolded in the Lafayette County Courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Lee’s parents, Jimmie and Stephanie Lee, and sister, left, sat beside Oxford Police Department Police Chief Jeff McCutchen, right, in the front row of the courtroom. Photo by Grace Marion

Reyes recalls that change, and the flood of false information that ensued, all too vividly.

He strongly emphasized that Lee Jay, a cisgender man, was the main thing he was very, very adamant about, pointing out that he went by the pronouns he/him. It was just a matter of not having control, things being taken out of context, rumors being spread, and everything going downhill when it all started.

Reyes said, “I recall him being incredibly firm in his identity and expressing that to me. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Jay Lee’s true self,” she continued. It was truly significant to him that the world recognized and supported him, and he continued to prioritize his protection.

“The day the injustice started, the day the misinformation started,” said Johnson, who knew from past cases in Mississippi’s history that serving justice in this manner can and will affect public opinion.

‘We Needed to Commute to our Jobs’

Jay Lee was the third LGBTQ+ individual killed in Mississippi in 2022.

HRC utilizes “at least” to refer to the significant number of unreported or misreported stories. The Human Rights Campaign reported that at least 38 transgender individuals were killed in the United States in 2022. Just over a month before Jay Lee went missing in June 21, a 27-year-old Black transgender woman named Marie Giselle Shawmaynè was killed in Gulfport. On March 26, 2022, a 24-year-old Black transgender woman named Williams “Kesha” Kenyatta was found dead in Jackson.

Rae DelBianco, a renowned writer, writing fellow at UM, and an advocate in Oxford, expressed, “The occurrence of this event had a profound effect on both the feeling of security and the cohesion of my community.” DelBianco openly identifies as bisexual and highlights, “Our queer community is relatively small.”

In the United States, the majority of hate crimes recorded in 2021 were motivated by sexual orientation and racial biases, according to the Hate Crime Statistics 2021 program released by the U.S. Department of Justice. The data, sourced from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, shows that there were 7,287 single-bias incidents recorded, with 1,121 of them motivated by sexual orientation and 4,491 motivated by racial bias. Additionally, there were 2021 incidents recorded where both sexual orientation and race were factors contributing to the bias.

‘This Is Not a Rare Story’: Friends of Jay Lee Seek Truth, Justice for Missing Oxford Man
Friends of University of Mississippi graduate Jimmie “Jay” Lee taped missing-person flyers to the bus stop in front of Molly Barr Trails apartment complex when he went missing, seen here on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. Photo by Grace Marion.

Mississippi, as a place to reside, is considered highly dangerous for LGBTQ+ individuals and people belonging to ethnic minorities. In 2022, the state witnessed the introduction of 31 bills opposing LGBTQ rights, along with legislation referred to as “Jim Crow 2.0.” These numbers are accompanied by statistical data, revealing that 0.06% of the bills were driven by bias against sexual orientation, while racial bias accounted for 83% of the reported hate crimes out of the 31 incidents that occurred in Mississippi in 2021. Acts of violence in this state are frequently motivated by both racism and homophobia.

Johnson expressed, “We needed to get more media attention on him. We needed a platform for Lee Jay to have a voice. We knew we had to step in and defend him within the community,” Johnson explained. “Have you noticed an increase in homophobic and transphobic remarks? Have you seen these cases of violence against queer and Black individuals?”

Inc. Missing and Black stated that “individuals of color are individuals who make up nearly 40 percent,” despite the fact that African Americans only account for 13 percent of the U.S. Population. Additionally, victims of Black descent are less likely to receive media coverage compared to cases involving white victims. According to the National Crime Information Center’s data, they accounted for 35% of cases, which is a surprisingly low 7% in media references. A study conducted by Mary William in 2015 also discovered that African-American children who go missing are often overlooked.

Johnson stated, “An unconventional Black individual is an additional element in that equation, and it is probable that they receive less coverage and are more prone to being overlooked compared to others.”

According to a 2020 study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, approximately 27% of those offenses were directed towards homosexual males. The study also revealed that individuals who identify as LGBT are almost four times more susceptible to experiencing violent victimization compared to those who do not identify as LGBT.

Johnson stated, “we were compelled to commence our tasks” due to that, an abundance of inequity is occurring in this particular instance, all of these interconnected factors truly contribute to the reasons behind it.

‘Jay Lee Commands a Military Force’

Jose Reyes immediately called Braylyn Johnson when the police arrested Timothy Herrington for killing Lee Jay in Oxford on Friday.

“We just accomplished it,” she expressed afterwards. “I declined to allow dishonesty and animosity to be expressed about my friend’s lasting impact,” she currently refers to her response as “complete despair.” Johnson subsequently contacted every coordinator and guide she could think of to seek counsel.

Jay Lee was the one who began sharing information and created the Instagram page “Justice for Reyes and She.”

Reyes said, “In some way, this story managed to be remembered by me.” “It was so simple for those connections to be made, as everyone is on social media.”

The first post shared on July 24, 2022, on the Instagram account @justiceforjaylee, consisted of seven slides that told Jay Lee’s story from the perspective of his friends, offering insight into his life and activism, including pictures of his family, as well as videos of his performances and Pink Code.

“To ensure that the Lee family in Mississippi, Oxford receives the justice they deserve, it is important to read the caption and watch the entire world.”

The post rapidly garnered more than 100 likes.

Johnson said, “It sounds crazy to say, but when he needed to be defended, there wasn’t a time when he needed to be defended. I know why a victim in the queer community spreading hateful things about Lee Jay needs to be defended, but it was necessary because of how much misinformation and hatred was being spread.”

‘This Is Not a Rare Story’: Friends of Jay Lee Seek Truth, Justice for Missing Oxford Man
Justice for Jay Lee supporters gathered on the Lafayette County Courthouse lawn during Timothy Herrington Jr.’s Aug. 22, 2022, bond hearing. He is charged with the murder of Jimmie “Jay” Lee, whose body is still missing, but out on bond. Photo courtesy Justice for Jay Lee Movement

Johnson said that the Instagram account was a way to relight his voice and let the world know that we’re going to ensure justice will be served and Lee Jay has an army.

Since the initial post on Instagram, Lee Jay for Justice has gained nearly 3,100 followers. With over 100 posts appearing and the use of hashtags such as #justiceforjaylee, #jaylee, and #whereisjaylee, the account has garnered a following of almost 3,100. Furthermore, Lee Jay has launched a TikTok account which has attracted almost 1,200 followers, received 36,000 likes, and accumulated over 430,000 views.

Reyes stated, “We never foresaw experiencing such significant growth.” “We didn’t anticipate exceeding three posts. We were truly hoping that Jay Lee would be discovered and we wouldn’t need to keep utilizing that account. However, we have, and it has greatly assisted us. It has certainly propagated Jay Lee’s heritage.”

Throughout Mississippi and the southern region, not only in Oxford, but also enables Jay Lee’s narrative to reach countless individuals, this unparalleled level of expansion not only disseminates information about the lawsuit.

Oxford: An Excellent Breeding Ground for LGBTQ+ Talent

In the summer of 2022, when they heard the story of Lee Jay, a drag performer from Memphis, Tennessee, they immediately felt a strong connection. Lee Jay is known as a talented entertainer and self-described “first artist” (also known as Mothie Miss Magical) in the drag community.

I was told by many people that Lee Jay is someone to watch. I had plans to get Lee Jay in my web because he showed great promise. But, in the interview, Moth said that Lee Jay dragged his sisters through. I didn’t even know Lee Jay and my heart is still broken over Lee Jay.

The movement for justice in Lee Jay is absolutely ridiculous. Nobody is supporting and loving them, and there are people who have been killed. It’s important to recognize that they are one of the most talented and queer young individuals. We should take pride in them and give them the credit they deserve. I don’t think that the Oxford incubator is great, and I believe that Pink Code is a fantastic show. The residents of North Mississippi College should actively support the LGBTQ+ community in their town.

‘This Is Not a Rare Story’: Friends of Jay Lee Seek Truth, Justice for Missing Oxford Man
Moth Moth Moth of Memphis joined the Justice for Jay Lee movement that arose in Oxford, Miss., after Jay Lee went missing. Moth said that Oxford, Miss., does not get enough credit for being “a great incubator of queer talent,” adding, “it should take pride in that.” Photo courtesy Moth Moth Moth

Sigrid, while performing to the tune of “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” incorporated the act of tearing apart cardboard figures depicting the former President Donald Trump. This element of their drag performances aligns with their political beliefs and dedication to activism. As the programs director at the Focus Center Foundation in Memphis and the reigning Miss Midsouth Pride 2023, Moth is well-versed in the realm of activism.

They stated, “It’s entirely due to Lisa, but it’s never deliberate — precisely in that manner, being placed in front of individuals, I never envisioned.”

In 2020, Lisa Michaels, a beloved trans icon and musician from Memphis, passed away at the age of 61. Michaels was known for her brightly colored hair, witty and politically humorous credits, and her foray into LGBTQ+ activism, which endeared her to her dear friend Moth.

Moth expressed, “I would like to be the one who is hated out there, standing between all of us, trying to have our dreams. Every time I thought about it, she was the one who would be happy. All these pictures of her blocking and singing were just there. I remember when she started chasing them and saw the protesters at the Pride Parade in Michaels [2018].”

‘Amazing Team of Youthful Fighters’

Moth says now, “it would not allow Lisa,” but drag in career Moth’s to end put almost seizure catastrophic an, 2018 in.

According to them, “Lisa is the reason behind all my achievements and endeavors. Thus, even during times when I had no faith in myself or anything else, she was my sole source of motivation. Although I often found her actions irritating, she persistently pushed me to continue performing on stage when I was on the verge of giving up.”

Moth “never questioned” whether they should get involved or insert their voice when it comes to the Justice for Jay Lee Movement, into the conversation.

They exclaimed, “I thoughtlessly threw it into pieces, and I was truly shocked by how sad I felt, realizing that I am responsible for the entire city that all these young people have fallen into, and I’ve encountered such an amazing group of young warriors.” “This is truly a difficult task. It is extremely challenging, I must say.”

“Moth expresses their fear that Lee’s Jay will disappear into the fossil record, as they describe it. Moth has been supporting several Justice for Lee Jay events, even appearing in rallies and reels on Instagram to advocate for their cause.”

Moth stated that if Jay Lee’s narrative were permitted to disappear, it would merely strengthen the proof that no one in the Southern region is worried.

They stated, “Devoid of any involvement, lacking any inquiries, lacking any means of redress, consequences, simply vanish, to effortlessly vanish with no existence of individuals who do not conform to traditional gender roles, individuals who are transgender, and individuals who are homosexual, it is effortless for us when we vanish into obscurity, nobody bothers to search for us.”

When it comes to the loss of life in the South and the ugliness it portrays, it shows a complete lack of a serious attitude. So, let’s discuss it.

“What Actions Would Jay Lee Take?”

The prosecution needs to locate Jay Lee’s body in the suspect’s case, and it is especially important that the case does not fade away. The warriors for Justice are insisting on engaging in activism both through social media messaging and face-to-face interactions.

Prosecutors disclosed that Herrington conducted various unsettling searches on Google, such as “What is the duration required to suffocate a person,” subsequent to Lee’s acceptance to meet. On the morning of July 8, Jay Lee displayed reluctance in going to Herrington’s residence, as evidenced by the Snapchat messages exchanged between them during Timothy Herrington’s bond hearing on August 9.

Later, Lee Jay arrived at Herrington apartment complex, showing footage from the surveillance cameras at Molly Barr Trails apartment. He also purchased a roll of duct tape from the local Walmart store, which Herrington showed on the security cameras.

‘This Is Not a Rare Story’: Friends of Jay Lee Seek Truth, Justice for Missing Oxford Man
Oxford police arrested Timothy Herrington Jr. for the murder of Jimmie “Jay” Lee, although the victim’s body has not been found. Photo courtesy Oxford PD

Morning, the same petite man was seen wearing a gray hoodie with a long-sleeve t-shirt wrapped around his neck and head, blocking his face.

According to prosecutors, Herrington was observed using a large shovel and a wheelbarrow. Later on, these implements would indicate that cadaver dogs had detected either human remains or decomposition.

A trial will be scheduled for a subsequent date, and he remains free on his preceding bail. On March 29, 2023, Timothy Herrington was charged with capital-murder by a grand jury in Lafayette County.

Nearly 300 days later, Jay Lee’s body is still yet to be found, pushing to bring awareness to his story.

Oxford, located near Larry’s Square, proudly offers special drinks and hosts various events and rallies sponsored by Pink Code, Reyes, Johnson, and others. The proceeds go towards supporting Jay Lee’s family.

How do they determine which events to organize? They pose a single inquiry to themselves: what actions would Jay Lee take?

‘It Felt Like a Bond Between Sisters’

The monument at Code Pink is the main concern for Jose Reyes.

He expressed, “We had a mutual affection for Code Pink; it felt like a bond between sisters.” We would eagerly anticipate and organize it together, so it holds significance for me to carry on sharing that affection, and it’s crucial for me to ensure his involvement.

He states, “similar to how it was in the past,” while Reyes is seated alongside Jay Lee and prepares with him whenever he prepares for the occasion. Inside Reyes’s room, Jay Lee’s graduation picture is placed when it is not displayed at the memorial in Code Pink.

Reyes stated, “I have him accompanying me the evening before.” “We’ll be preparing concurrently, we’ll capture a few photographs jointly, we’ll enter the vehicle and arrive at the occasion jointly, and then I simply arrange everything for him. It’s pleasant having him present, even though he’s not physically present. However, possessing an image of him surpasses the requirement. Those were our evenings; it wouldn’t be identical without him.” “It’s genuinely the identical atmosphere we experienced.”

‘This Is Not a Rare Story’: Friends of Jay Lee Seek Truth, Justice for Missing Oxford Man
Jimmie “Jay” Lee’s family and loved ones, including his sister Tayla (left), attended the Jayoncé fundraiser event at The Lyric on Aug. 11, 2022. Proceeds from the event featuring drag performance, karaoke and dancing went to benefit his family. Photo courtesy Justice for Jay Lee Movement

As an event planner, I can organize a large-scale celebration in honor of Jay Lee’s birthday to help his family raise money. We can gather together within a week to celebrate him and make sure it is a memorable event. It was a couple of weeks before his 21st birthday when Larry went missing, but his friend from the ongoing Pink Code memorial is proud to keep his memory alive. They hold events at various locations around Oxford to ensure that his memory lives on.

All of this has become achievable due to Johnson highlighting the Justice for Jay Lee movement, Code Pink, Jay’s acquaintances and relatives, and individuals from LAMBDA (a LGBTQIA+ support group for students in the UM Department of Psychology).

“Our community greatly enhances our in-person appearances,” she stated. “Their support is truly astonishing.”

Rae DelBianco acknowledges Jay Lee’s closest companions for the Jay Lee campaign and increasing consciousness.

DelBianco exclaimed, “The courage of Jose and Braylyn is absolutely incredible and inspiring. They are facing powers that are trying to bring justice down, and they are loved by everyone who wants to see order prevail.”

Profound Influence Beyond Life, and Mortality

Jay Lee’s documenters are convinced that his life can have a profound influence even after his passing.

Johnson conveyed her hopefulness that Justice for Jay Lee will stimulate noteworthy change – a change she believes would pay tribute to her friend’s legacy.

She remarked, “Jay Lee was a remarkably versatile and enthusiastic individual.” “It’s truly remarkable what he was engaged in on a spontaneous Friday, which undoubtedly reflects his personality,” she pondered. “While on campus, he was organizing a campaign to collect baby food formula before he disappeared.” “Thanks to the platform we are creating, we have managed to establish sufficient community support to continue Jay Lee’s work.”

Johnson stated, “Jay Lee would strongly dislike using these forms to speak out against injustice, but it’s crucial for our entire nation to use our platform not only to seek justice for Jay Lee but also to address the legislation that is negatively impacting the Black and LGBT communities. There is so much that can be accomplished and said for Jay Lee’s friends in Mississippi and beyond, as their work extends to Oxford.”

He had many ideas and a lot of work to finish before his disappearance, but he didn’t get the chance to do so. His work and those ideas deserved to be continued.

‘This Is Not a Rare Story’: Friends of Jay Lee Seek Truth, Justice for Missing Oxford Man
Protesters gathered outside Lafayette County Courthouse in Oxford in preparation for the arraignment of Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., 22, on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. They held posters and chanted “stop killing us” as Herrington left the building. Photo by Grace Marion

Indeed, my friend. They stated, “Lee Jay is a historically significant figure to me”. “He was engaged and deeply connected with the people around him, and he deserved much more than this. He was destined to accomplish even more amazing things than this; he deserved so much more, being involved and connected with the people around him. I will continue to tell his story and carry on his work. Lee Jay’s story is not just a rare story, but it is also a sad one.”

In the Southern region, the act of disseminating Jay Lee’s narrative and advocating for fairness will have a significant impact on the advancement of security for individuals who identify as queer. DelBianco strongly urges anyone who has been acquainted with Jay Lee’s account to relay it to others. She emphasized, “Spread his narrative, whether it be through various social platforms, among your acquaintances, or within any media organization.”

Now is the time to ensure that Oxford knows for certain, if it does not carry out a fair trial or investigative justice, the whole world is watching.