It has been five years now since Karena McClerkin was last seen by friends or family. McClerkin’s grandmother, Gerry, has fought ever since to find answers about what happened to her granddaughter.
“I don’t understand. She was an 18-year-old kid,” Gerry said. “An 18-year old girl.”
McClerkin disappeared on Oct. 11, 2016, around the 1000 block of South Washington Street. Gerry said she was last seen in a gray sweatshirt, a black belly shirt, and ripped jeans.
Gerry worries her granddaughter’s case has not gotten the attention it deserves because Karena struggled with drugs and is of mixed race. Karena was making plans to get help with her drug use, but she never got the chance.
“I held that girl,” Gerry said. “She laughed. She cried. She went to school. But she doesn’t exist to anyone in Kokomo.”
Gerry and her family are unhappy with the way Karena’s case has been handled. She said it seems like the community forgot about Karena, and the police don’t care.
“Nobody ever shows up for anything that we ever do,” Gerry said. “We just don’t know what to do.”
In the past five years, Gerry and her son, Karena’s father, have given up hope of finding Karena alive. Regardless, it is still important to her family that they find her and get closure.
Gerry has a small group of volunteers she calls her “walker girls”, who go with her to search various locations when she hears tips about where Karena might be.
“We can’t get anybody to help,” said Andrea Jo, one of Gerry’s main walker girls. “I know it hurts Gerry a lot. I feel bad for the family because they can’t get any answers.”
The few volunteers who help Gerry search and advocate for Karena said people just do not get involved in the case.
“It’s a shame that we’re the only ones here,” said Mindy Mudd, who went to City Hall on Oct. 11 to hold signs for Karena. “It’s a community problem, but nobody sees it that way.”
Phylis Boyles, another volunteer who stood outside City Hall on Oct. 11, said she would love it if the community had a Karena McClerkin day, where more people gathered and searched in a larger group.
“People get complacent. They think it’ll never happen to them, but it can,” Boyles said. “We’ve walked the streets with balloons, we’ve tried to get [the police] to do something, but they say they can’t.”
Gerry has heard hundreds of stories about what might have happened to her granddaughter, and she tries to follow up on each one. She has waded through swamps, woods and the reservoir; she has overturned large boulders and gotten permission to search abandoned properties. Gerry said she will not be at peace until Karena is.
“I hate to travel Sycamore out there by the reservoir. I hate it,” Gerry said. “I’ve been out there seven times with people to search. Only three to four people at a time, my main walker girls and my son, come out. We can’t cover an entire woods.”
Gerry asked the Kokomo Police Department to search some of the areas she and her walker girls could not cover, but she said she has never seen or heard of the police searching any specific areas for Karena. She said some landowners with properties of interest told her the police never came.
“We are still working the case. It has never been closed. We can’t really say a whole lot,” Capt. Mike Banush of the Kokomo Police Department said. “As of two weeks ago, we were working leads we’ve gotten. It’s still an active investigation.”
Banush said every tip and every lead are followed up on. He said cases are typically assigned to one person, but cases like Karena’s are large enough that all officers help with it.
“We have things to do on the case. We’ve been doing it since the very beginning,” Banush said. “I mean, the case file is huge. All the leads, we’ve followed up on. We’re just hoping to get a break on it and go from there.”
Banush said the police department believes there are people in the community who can solve the case.
“We know that there are people out there who know what happened to her, without a doubt, and we just need those people to come forward and tell us. That’s what we’re hoping for,” Banush said.
Gerry and her family have also asked anyone with information to come forward. Gerry said she does not care what happened, and she does not even need to know who the person providing the information is.
“Please come forward. Your DNA is not there anymore. What do you have to lose? Contact me. I don’t even have to know your name or anything,” Gerry said. “We just want my granddaughter back home.”
Gerry said she will not give up and will keep searching until Karena is found.
“She’s a little bit of everywhere in Kokomo, and nowhere at the same time,” Gerry said. “We’re tired.”