UK student’s body found after swimming accident in Israel; Mom also lost son in December

TeNiya Elnora Jones
TeNiya Elnora Jones WKYT

The body of a University of Kentucky student who went missing in the Mediterranean Sea during her study-abroad trip was found Monday morning, according to The Times of Israel and the News-Press.

TeNiya Elnora Jones, 19, was swimming with two other students just after midnight Saturday when they got caught up in a strong current, according to a news release from UK. Two of the students were able to make it back to shore, but Jones did not.

Rescue forces, including divers, had been searching the waters for her ever since, according to The Times of Israel. Her body washed up in Tel Aviv early Monday, the news outlet reported. Family members of Jones told the News-Press and WINK (TV) News Monday morning she drowned.

Jones was from Fort Myers, Fla., and was a sophomore at UK majoring in biology and Islamic studies.

Jones traveled to the region as part of a study-abroad program focused on the Arabic language, according to UK. The program is based in Amman, Jordan, and Jones’ group included seven UK students and two from West Virginia University. Their study-abroad program was scheduled to be completed this week, UK said in a news release.

Jones’ mother, Tosha Thomas-Mora, exchanged texts with her daughter at 10:30 p.m. Saturday Israeli time and Jones said she was “in for the night,” Thomas-Mora told the News-Press. Eight hours later, Thomas-Mora said she received a call from the vice president at the CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) that her daughter was missing. She later received a call from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, according to the News-Press.

Thomas-Mora’s 22-year-old son, Samuel Jones Jr., was shot and killed in a double homicide last December, the News-Press reported.

“We pray that TeNiya’s family finds light in this darkness. We pray, too, for comfort and healing for our other students,” UK President Eli Capilouto said in an update to the campus Monday.

Capilouto also said he was grateful for the work of the UK International Center and other community members who have worked since Jones was reported missing Saturday night.

One of Jones’ professors at UK, DaMaris Hill, said in a statement Monday that she stood out as a student. Hill, an assistant professor of creative writing and English literature, taught Jones in an “Introduction to Black Writers” class last spring.

Jones was “very ambitious and committed to learning everything she possibly could about her courses,” Hill said in the release. “Miss Jones made a point to introduce herself to me after our first-class meeting.”

Jones had expressed interest in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies in Hill’s class and asked her to help her find out how those interests could work along with the African American studies program, she said.

“She constantly exceeded any expectation placed in front of her,” Hill said. She was a “leader among her peers and contributed greatly to the intellectual discussions in our course. She was very insightful about the how cultural assumptions informed how we understood the world. Our class benefited greatly from her insights.”

As a high-schooler at Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Jones was a star track-and-field athlete. She won numerous county, district and regional championships in the hurdles and had hopes of being a walk on player on UK’s team next season, her mother told the News-Press. Thomas-Mora, also said her daughter had just earned a spot in UK’s pre-medical program.

There was an outpouring of support on social media for Jones after she was reported missing Sunday. Many of her former classmates at her high school and UK tweeted messages.

“It just shows who TeNiya is. She is loved. You were easily attracted to her personality,” Thomas-Mora told the News-Press.

The UK Counseling Center said Monday that their doors were open to students who were struggling with what happened.

“As you process this event and other episodes of uncertainty and sadness, seek the comfort of friends and the advice of professionals,” Capilouto said in his Monday update. “To that end, please know there are resources and caring people on our campus, ready and equipped to help you with all that you are feeling and experiencing.”

The counseling center is offering same-day appointments and consultations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“If you are having any reactions to the news about the UK student involved in an accident while studying abroad, the UKCC is here to listen,” the center said in a tweet.