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Mystery surrounding death of Dakota James spurs mother's mission

PITTSBURGH — A year ago this month, Dakota James vanished from downtown Pittsburgh.

Surveillance video showed him walking in Katz Plaza the night of Jan. 25, 2017, but what happened next remains a mystery.

The 23-year-old Duquesne University student was found dead in the Ohio River in Robinson Township two months later.

The medical examiner said he drowned accidentally, but James’ family disputes that.


For the first time, his mother, Pamela James, sat down for a television interview. She talked to Channel 11’s Katherine Amenta about her pain, her mission and her belief that someone killed her son that night.

"We are starting to go through the process of starting to have to relive the whole year over again, remembering where we were," she said.

After he vanished, she turned to social media, posting heartbreaking messages to the community and her son.

Dakota James Interview

WATCH BELOW: IF YOU MISSED OUR FACEBOOK LIVE, previewing my interview with Dakota James' mother. STORY AIRS TONIGHT AT 5:45PM on Ch. 11 WPXI David Johnson WPXI-TV Pittsburgh

Posted by WPXI Katherine Amenta on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"Because, if he was still there, and able to hear me, he would know that we were looking for him," Pamela James said.

Now, she's turned her grief into determination as she takes on a mission to get more surveillance cameras put up throughout the Pittsburgh region because she believes if there was more video from that night, she'd have answers.

Channel 11 took her concerns to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who admitted the family should have more answers.

"We should have been able to follow him, literally step-by-step," Zappala said.

But that night, there were streets that didn't have cameras, and the cameras on some streets weren't working.

"This family will never find closure because things that could have been done weren't done," he said.

Pamela James knows her mission won't bring Dakota back, but she believes it will keep his spirit alive.

"He left this world, but he will be remembered for what he is bringing to the world," she said.


She's now working closely with Zappala's office to get more surveillance cameras put up and Zappala said she has helped start an initiative to equip many Pittsburgh streets with "virtual eyes."

The first new cameras will be put up in central Oakland because of the college population.

That project will cost around $45,000 and should be complete by this summer.

The money will come from forfeited funds from drug dealers.

Zappala said the money Pamela James is raising will go towards putting up cameras in the Mon Valley, which has seen a lot of crime recently.

If you'd like to help raise that money, there is a fundraiser on Jan. 19 at City Theatre.

To learn more about the Dakota James Foundation, CLICK HERE.