Jealyn Delshaun Young is the daughter of a Vicksburg police officer and former high school math teacher.
She grew up on Indiana Avenue in Vicksburg. Friends of the family say as far as they know it was a stable home: Dad is a Navy veteran, while mom is listed today on the Madison Parish School District’s website as the principal of a Louisiana middle school.
The family has declined comment.
Jaelyn attended Warren Central High School, where she reportedly excelled inside and outside of the classroom. She was an honor student. She was a homecoming maid. She was on the robotics team. She was a cheerleader.
School officials, contacted by The Dispatch on Tuesday, declined to comment.
But Amy Vaughn Melton, whose daughter was in the same grade with Jaelyn at Warren Central High and also on the cheerleading squad, said “every room she walked in, she lit it up.”
When Melton’s daughter, Kimmy, passed away, the family began offering a scholarship in their daughter’s name. The idea was to give it to someone who embodied her characteristics. The scholarship’s first recipient was Jaelyn.
“Without question, she was our first choice,” Melton said, describing Jaelyn as a confident and “giving person,” someone who “hugged everybody she saw” and “never met a stranger.”
Liz Treloar, a recent graduate of Warren Central High School, says Young has been her best friend for eight years. Treloar said she doesn’t recognize the person she has been hearing about in the media.
“She’s not a terrorist like people are making her out to be,” Treloar said. “She’s intelligent, helpful. She’s my favorite person. I don’t see her any different now.”
After graduating high school in 2013, Young enrolled at Mississippi State University, where university officials say she majored in chemistry.
At some point in Starkville she appears to have begun following the religion of Islam.
The bio section on her Twitter page — @1_modest_woman — seems to suggest that anyone who does not agree with her interpretation of the religion should not follow her. And her Facebook page’s banner photograph contains the phrase “Free Palestine.”
Treloar, 18, said Young attended a neighborhood Baptist church when she was living with her family in Vicksburg and had never mentioned Islam until after leaving for college.
“The first time I remember her talking about converting was around April,” said Treloar, who said that while she hasn’t spoken with Young since September they have stayed in contact through text messages. “I’m not really sure why she wanted to convert. I do know she had met a lot of Muslim friends in college. Maybe that was it. She never told me. But I know she isn’t a terrorist.”
According to Dennis Harmon, a Columbus attorney representing the Dahklalla family, Young had met Muhammad “Mo” Dakhlalla during her freshman year at MSU. Harmon said the were married in the eyes of their faith after having a “nikkah” ceremony in front of his family a “matter of months” ago. The two have known each other fewer than two years.
The union is not registered at the Oktibbeha County courthouse.
When word began spreading this weekend of Jaelyn’s arrest by federal authorities, Melton was shocked. When she learned of the accusations against Jaelyn, her first reaction, she said, was: “This is not the same person I remember…I don’t know what happened.”
Dispatch reporters Alex Holloway, Andrew Hazzard and Slim Smith contributed to this story.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.