Before he was kidnapped, murdered, Curtis Jenkins III ‘tried to bring everyone together’

Patricia Brown speaks at a memorial for her nephew, Curtis Jenkins III, in Haddon Heights, New Jersey on July 7, 2019. Curtis Jenkins III, the son of Camden's City Council President, was killed after being kidnapped last week in Camden. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Patricia Brown speaks at a memorial for her nephew, Curtis Jenkins III, in Haddon Heights, New Jersey on July 7, 2019. Curtis Jenkins III, the son of Camden's City Council President, was killed after being kidnapped last week in Camden. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

“I think God put me on this earth to make people happy,” read a May 2017 essay Curtis Jenkins III wrote for an English prompt about purpose.

Jenkins’ former English teachers at Haddon Heights Junior-Senior High School, Michelle Lubonski and Maureen Rutter, took turns reading the essay in front of the more than 200 people who gathered at the school’s football field Sunday night.

They were there to honor their former student who, prosecutors say, was murdered after he was kidnapped last week.

The grandson of Camden City Council President Curtis Jenkins Sr., Jenkins would have turned 21 on Sunday. 

Two Haddon Heights Jr.-Sr. High School teachers read a paper written by Curtis Jenkins III during a memorial in Haddon Heights, New Jersey on July 7, 2019. Curtis Jenkins III, the son of Camden’s City Council President, was killed after being kidnapped last week in Camden. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Jenkins had been reported missing on July 1 and his body was found the following day, not far from his house, shortly after a photo showing him blindfolded and bound was sent to his family by someone demanding 10 to 15 pounds of marijuana. Brandon Beverly, 32, has been charged with Jenkins’ murder.

Those who knew Jenkins nodded their heads in agreement at the Haddon Heights vigil as the two teachers read what Jenkins wrote. 

Friends remembered Jenkins for his outgoing personality and his knack for extending friendship to the shyest of students. 

“Curt was just a funny guy, like, he always made you laugh … If you were in a bad mood, he was always cracking jokes,” said Megan Carle, who met Jenkins her freshman year of high school and helped organize the vigil in Haddon Heights. “He loved, he loved, he loved everyone he met — very generous.”

Sydnee Dee, another organizer, said she met Jenkins in the fourth grade. 

Wearing a white t-shirt that read #LONGLIVECURT on the back and a heart split in half on the front left side, Dee described how Jenkins was a great listener and gave sage advice.

She also recalled his love for cooking, which continued into young adulthood. His friends and family say Jenkins was considering attending culinary school. His rice and jerk chicken stood out as one of Dee’s favorites in high school. 

“Sometimes he’d be like, ‘Listen Sydney, I’ve got to bring you some another day,’ ” she remembered. But he’d always give her some of his food anyway. “It didn’t matter, he would always share no matter what or he’d bring me my own.”

Community and family members gather for a memorial for Curtis Jenkins III in Haddon Heights, New Jersey on July 7, 2019. Curtis Jenkins III, the son of Camden’s City Council President, was killed after being kidnapped last week in Camden. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Patricia Brown, Jenkins’ great-aunt, echoed what friends said, especially how her nephew fed everyone, something he picked up from his great-grandmother, Betsy Barnes in the kitchen when he was 10 years old. 

“He always tried to bring everyone together, even if he didn’t know you,” she said.

Still, friends said Jenkins wasn’t afraid to tell people if they were acting out of line.

Caleb Sharp said he met Jenkins in study hall when he was a freshman. Sharp said he wasn’t likable in high school and he had an attitude problem, often clashing with authority, which Jenkins called him out on.

“He kind of saw all of that and said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing all of this? Why are you putting this front up? Take that down,’ ” Sharp said. He described the talk as a turning point that helped him adjust his attitude.

Sharp shared this memory at Sunday’s memorial.

Later, he and other attendees sang “Happy Birthday” before releasing balloons, some with the number 21 on them to celebrate Jenkins’ life.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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