The last time Alexa Kluka saw Jenna Burleigh was at a farewell party.
The two young women, close friends since their senior year at Souderton Area High School, were celebrating another friend’s move to Boston. They shared a drink and enjoyed blue champagne — a celebratory drink Burleigh regularly brought to special occasions.
“I just remember looking at her and just being so happy that we were all together,” Kluka said.
What Kluka did not know that night was that it would be her final farewell to Burleigh. Two weeks later, the 22-year-old Temple University student from Harleysville was murdered, police allege, by a man she had just met at a bar near campus.
Kluka and other friends said Sunday they would remember Burleigh as an adventurous and passionate young woman, and a free spirit who was not afraid to be “unapologetically herself.” An advocate for social justice and equality, she blogged about her views and attended marches and rallies. She was an aspiring filmmaker, and had recently transferred to Temple, where she began taking classes last week toward a degree in film and media arts.
Burleigh was last seen leaving Pub Webb with Joshua Hupperterz at 2 a.m. Thursday. He was charged Sunday morning with Burleigh’s murder, which police said they believe took place in Hupperterz’s apartment in North Philadelphia, around the corner from Pub Webb. Her body was found at Hupperterz’s grandmother’s house 140 miles away in Wayne County, police said. The coroner’s office in Wayne County said Sunday Burleigh died of blunt trauma and strangulation.
Burleigh and Hupperterz met each other for the first time Wednesday night at Pub Webb, police said. Surveillance video shows them leaving the bar together — Burleigh wearing a T-shirt that read “positive vibes only.”
That was the essence of Burleigh, her friends said.
“I truly believe in the good in people and the magic that can be found in all of us,” she wrote in a March blog post.
“If a bug was in the house, she’d have to let out a spider — she wouldn’t kill anything,” Kluka said.
Burleigh graduated from Souderton Area High School in 2013 and went to college in Florida for one semester, her friends said, but returned home on medical leave with a foot injury. She took classes at Montgomery County Community College before transferring to Temple this year. Kluka and other friends who gathered Sunday to remember Burleigh said they did not know what career goals she had after college, but were sure that helping others would have been a key part.
“I think we all became much better people from knowing her,” said another high school friend, Shauna Duggan.
When Burleigh heard friends saying something mean or judgmental, she would jump in to correct them.
“She’d say, ‘That’s not right. Accept them. Be Nice,’ ” Duggan said. “Every time I said something, I’d hear her in the back of my head.”
Burleigh did more than just talk about the importance of acceptance. She attended the Women’s March in Philadelphia in January, as well as a pride parade for LGBTQ rights, her friends said.
“I will always fight for equality for ALL. And my journey is just getting started,” she wrote in a March blog post that turned out to be her last — and distressingly wrong.
Her posts on Facebook include a 2015 plea for friends to donate winter survival items in backpacks for her to hand out to homeless people in Philadelphia. A few months later, she posted a photo of her car filled with backpacks and supplies donated by school children.
“She actually went out and did something about it,” said high school friend Caitlin Duddy. “The rest of us are just talk.”
Burleigh was also a free spirit, her friends said, and was not afraid to be goofy or let her personality show. Once she showed up to Kluka’s birthday party wearing a T-shirt on which she had written “happy bday.”
She often wore headbands adorned with cat ears, bright pink jackets, and sunglasses shaped like hearts, said another friend, Dana Ciesielski.
“She didn’t care what people thought about her,” Ciesielski wrote in a message Sunday to the Inquirer and Daily News.
Ciesielski said she met Burleigh more than two years ago when Burleigh donated items to her shop, which sells secondhand clothing. Burleigh got to know Ciesielski by attending group meditation sessions at the shop, Artiquè Designs in Harleysville, where Burleigh talked with her about her love of poetry, literature, film, and fighting for women’s rights.
During her first week at Temple, Burleigh went to dinner with her father, Edward. That was Wednesday night. He would later tell police that his daughter had plans to go out later that evening and to stay overnight with a friend near Temple’s campus. After they ate, Edward Burleigh dropped Jenna off at a friend’s house.
By the next evening, a distraught father reported his daughter missing after hours of not hearing from her. It was out of character for her not to be in touch for a long period of time, he told police.
On Saturday, he got the agonizing news — and posted a message on Facebook:
“Our Beautiful Angel Jenna is now in Heaven. Now I know for sure that you can have a ‘broken heart’ RIP honey.”