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Indiana teacher creates missing persons website to help loved ones find answers

Connie Anderson-Sweat created the website "Find My Beloved" after one of her students went missing for two days.

INDIANAPOLIS — Gabby Petito's disappearance re-opened wounds for loved ones of other missing persons whose stories didn't garner the same attention and exposed racial disparities with missing person cases.

For those who have lived this reality for years, the question now is how to keep the momentum going to keep their loved ones' names and stories in the public eye.

One Indianapolis high school teacher decided to be the change she wanted to see, after tragedy struck too close to her classroom. 

"In October, I had a former student who was missing for two whole days … and we're in the same city, and I had no idea," Connie Anderson-Sweat said. "I had no idea until his body was found."

That was the heartbreaking call to action for Anderson-Sweat, a 10th grade teacher at Thrival Indy Academy. 

"I wondered what I could have done, if anything, to assist ... had I known," she said. 

That lingering question became the framework behind the website she created and launched less than a month later. 

Find My Beloved gives loved ones of people who are missing, resources and a way to quickly spread the word in the first 48 hours, which is such a crucial time in the investigation. 

"Before news outlets even know," she explained, "or before Amber Alerts are even determined because some cases don't fit the criteria for Amber or Silver Alerts."

Loved ones can post info and real-time updates to the site. But one of the most important components, Anderson-Sweat explained, is making the site accessible for people in their community, who can submit tips and find support.

"A loved one who is in that situation, they feel like their hands are tied," Anderson-Sweat said. "It is the most helpless feeling that a person could have."

That's a feeling Gerry McClerkin knows all too well. The Kokomo grandmother has been tirelessly searching for answers in her granddaughter's disappearance for five years now. 

"She was a kid, she just turned 18 on Sept. 26 and went missing Oct. 11," McClerkin said while clutching photos of her granddaughter Karena.

Credit: Kokomo Police Department
The Kokomo Police Department is still searching for Karena McClerkin.

Karena McClerkin was last seen walking down the 1000 block of South Washington Street near downtown Kokomo, police said. Despite her efforts to keep Karena's story relevant, Gerry said it's disheartening that so many people in the surrounding community still don't know Karena's name.

RELATED: Kokomo police looking for woman missing since 2016

The McClerkin family is not alone.

"I was speaking to a mother who I've been working with, as her daughter has been missing for five years," Derrica Wilson said, "and she said people in the next town, they don't even know my daughter is missing; this is a part of our community."

Wilson is co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation. The nonprofit brings awareness to missing people of color. Although she's been doing this work for nearly 14 years now, Wilson said there's been an encouraging interest recently in how to bring more attention to cases of missing people of color.

Karena is listed on the foundations' national database along with more than a dozen other Hoosiers whose cases have seemingly gone cold. 

"What we see is that people want to change the narrative and be the solution," Wilson said.

Anderson-Sweat said a solution certainly won't come overnight, but "I would like to let them know that we're here with you."

"This is here to support you and make sure your loved one gets the attention that they need until your loved one is brought home or some type of peace is made," the teacher said of her website that she hopes to, one day, be available in an app.

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