New developments in unclassified Lakeview death

Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 8:50 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New developments this evening in the unclassified death of a 43-year-old Lakeview woman, whose body was found two blocks from her home in the summer of 2019.

The family of Jessica Easterly Durning cries out for answers, which they say have been too few and far between.

Near a quiet dead-end corner in Lakeview, in August 2019, the family of Jessica Easterly Durning got confirmation of their worst fears.

“The very first place we stopped, 2 1/2 blocks away from where she lived with Justin we found her,” said her sister Amanda Barnes.

Jessica’s family and friends went to search for her 10 days after she was reported missing.

Friends and family say on the day of her disappearance her husband Justin called looking for Jessica, saying she left her cell phone and her wallet behind and that he was worried.

A little more than a week later they found her body and were devastated.

The next 18 months were grueling for Jessica’s loved ones as they searched for answers, even creating a website, filled with pleas for justice.

All the while Jessica’s body remained at the Orleans Parish Coroner’s morgue for more than 500 days as the investigation continued and the family worked out custody issues.

But just this week her body was released.

“My sister had a fractured nose, a broken jaw, a broken rib and a broken C4 vertebrae which is in your neck. My sister didn’t fall,” said Audrey Schmitt.

Jessica’s family is finally relieved her body has been released from the corners office after 18 months but there’s still been no cause of death determination and that’s creating a lot of frustration.

“There were several instances of trauma to her body and she was only 43-years-old,” said her friend Maria Creel.

The Orleans Parish Coroners office released a statement saying, “advance changes of decomposition can make determination of cause and manner of death difficult as it did in this case. Due to this decomposition toxicology testing was limited to liver tissue which did test positive for methamphetamine and bupropion. However it is unclear these results reflect recent intake and a drug related death cannot be ruled out.”

The New Orleans police department says the death investigation into Jessica Durning remains open and active. The family has also asked the state police and the District Attorney’s Office to join the investigation. And they say they are willing to share information on her activitites in the weeks and months leading up to Jessica’s death.

“Now that there is a new DA more packets will be going out,” said Schmitt.

Though the family craves answers they may now finally bury the sister and friend, they loved .

“It will be a private funeral,” said Schmitt.

But questions surrounding the death of Jessica Easterly Durning’s will take much longer to resolve.

The coroners office says the case remains open. It also says should new relevant information come to light, the cause and manner of death can be re-evaluated.

We reached out to Justin Durning, Jessica’s husband, but have not heard back.

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