Breaking months of silence, Lynchburg police and prosecutors Thursday revealed the last moments of Jamisha Gilbert’s life, concluding a case filled with twists and turns that defies an easy answer.
Gilbert, an 18-year-old recent Heritage High grad was found dead in a briar patch near Megginson Cemetery on Dec. 4. Crews, who scoured the area for days after she disappeared, used chainsaws to reach her body in the heavily-wooded area.
But there is no evidence she was dragged to the remote location near the intersection of U.S. 460 and Concord Turnpike, Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Doucette said.
She was naked when discovered, yet there was no evidence of sexual assault.
She had “a small amount of marijuana in her system,” the prosecutor wrote in his report. The drug “likely contributed to death, although the degree to which marijuana contributed to death is uncertain.”
Though her body was covered in scratches, the medical examiner concluded Gilbert had no internal injuries and did not appear to be suffering from any disease.
Her car was found wrecked into a guardrail nearly two miles away, near the intersection of Concord Turnpike and Winston Ridge Road. But Gilbert did not die from injuries in the crash.
The commonwealth’s attorney shared entries from the teen’s diary in which she wrote “the world I live in is like the matrix.” She had told her boyfriend “her step-father had raised her to be a demon,” Doucette’s report states.
Though her mother told police Gilbert “was known to act ‘crazy’ when she smoked marijuana,” investigators found no other evidence that would suggest an underlying mental health issue.
Hours before she died, Gilbert, crying, told her boyfriend she was worried she no longer would be able to live in her home on Blue Ridge Street, as a family member who owned the property was going to begin charging rent, Doucette wrote.
But after all the searches, the interviews, the lab tests and evidence collection, authorities have reached a conclusion.
“The cause of death is hypothermia. … The investigative reports of the circumstances leading up to death indicate the manner of death to be an accident,” Doucette quoted from her autopsy report.
“No criminal charges will be filed in the case of the death of Jamisha Monique Gilbert.”
In a 15-page report, prosecutors laid out their interpretation of the events of Thursday, Nov. 28.
That evening, Gilbert and her boyfriend — identified only as T.N. — picked up another friend and went to the lower Rivermont area where they bought marijuana. They met up with a fourth person and shared two marijuana joints in a car. A witness said Gilbert “seemed to become agitated” as they smoked.
Jamisha and her boyfriend parted from their two unnamed companions and smoked another joint together, the report states.
Witnesses said the marijuana seemed to be potent, but that there was no evidence it was laced with any more powerful drugs, Doucette said. There were no other drugs — including alcohol — in her system, according to a toxicology report.
As they smoked, Gilbert became emotional and began talking about her living situation and “how her step-father had raised her to be a demon.” Doucette could not provide more information regarding that relationship.
T.N. told Gilbert she “needed to get things straight with her family,” before he returned home, where he told police he spent the night with another girlfriend, the report states.
He last saw Gilbert driving toward Concord Turnpike.
The car was found wrecked on that road the next morning. Swabs from the deployed airbags proved Gilbert had been behind the wheel.
At about 1:55 a.m., a surveillance camera from the city waste water treatment plant on Concord Turnpike captured a black female running toward U.S. 460. Officers saw no one else in the video and no evidence she was being chased either on foot or by car. The individual seemed to be stripped to the waist.
About a half-mile from the crash scene, police found a jacket, t-shirt and bra. A citizen came forward and told officers he found the clothing in the middle of the road at about 3 a.m. Inside a jacket pocket, investigators found Gilbert’s house key.
Another person told investigators he found a pair of boots and pants just west of the sewage plant that matched the description of Gilbert’s clothing. Officers found no evidence linking that man to Gilbert’s disappearance.
The evidence suggests Gilbert ran toward U.S. 460, away from the crash site, Doucette wrote.
The autopsy report listed two possible explanations for Gilbert’s apparent decision to undress.
In about half of hypothermia deaths, doctors have observed what is known as “paradoxical undressing.” As a person freezes, circulation can cause a “false feeling of warmth” as warm blood rushes into areas of frozen skin, the autopsy report states. This can lead the victim to undress. Lynchburg dipped to 17 degrees the night Gilbert disappeared.
The medical examiner also remarked marijuana can lead to “symptoms including but not limited to paranoid delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, and disorganized thinking.”
Forensic scientist Davis Blanchard found 0.001 mg per liter of marijuana in Gilbert’s system — “a very small amount. … consistent with a person that had recently taken a few puffs from one or two marijuana joints,” Doucette wrote, citing Blanchard and toxicologist Dr. Jim Kuhlman.
Toxicologists informed Doucette “it is not common for someone to act in the manner that Jamisha Gilbert did after having only smoked a small amount of marijuana,” the report states.
The commonwealth’s attorney noted while marijuana does not always provoke such a strong psychotic reaction, it appeared to have such an effect on Gilbert.
As evidence, he cited Harvard Medical School research that has documented “brain abnormalities in young adults who are marijuana smokers. … regions related to decision-making, motivation, and emotional processing in participants tended to be compromised. The findings revealed differences in the mind of young adult marijuana users, at an age when their brains were still developing.”
Doucette’s office has decided not to pursue any homicide charges against those with whom Gilbert smoked. Investigators found no evidence that any acted maliciously or intended to kill Gilbert. No drug charges will be filed either, especially because the small amount of marijuana would lead to light sentences, but the cases could languish in court.
“The justification for this decision comes in the possibility that a greater good can result from this case if the facts are made open to the public now, instead of in months or possibly a year from now,” Doucette wrote.
“This does not have to happen to anyone else. By releasing this report and exposing all of the facts in this case, it is our hope that local teenagers and young adults will understand that smoking marijuana can exacerbate mental health issues and make rational people act completely irrationally. … A decision has been made in this case not to seek criminal charges in the hopes of releasing all of the facts of this investigation sooner so as to allow persons to make more informed decisions about the potential negative effects of smoking marijuana.”
And while the drugs played a part, Doucette’s report notes the tempest of struggles buffeting the 18-year-old in the final moments of her life.
“Her mental state on the night of her disappearance, being upset over family issues and her living situation, when combined with the effects of smoking marijuana and the trauma of being involved in a vehicle accident seemed to have pushed her over the edge.”