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Missing in America

What Happened to Missing Indiana Teen Karena McClerkin?

Whenever Gerry McClerkin would drop her granddaughter off anywhere, they'd hold hands.

Karena McClerkin Gerry McClerkin

"I didn't get to see her all the time, but when I did and we said goodbye, we'd both cry almost every time," Gerry told Dateline. "When I think about the last time I said goodbye to her, it's even more heartbreaking now."

That heartbreak stems from the terrifying fact Karena has not been seen or heard from in more than five months.

Karena, 18, was reported missing on October 13, 2016 after being last seen on October 11, according to police in Kokomo, Indiana. The events leading to her disappearance are a bit foggy.

Things had been rough in Karena's life, her grandmother Gerry told Dateline.

Somewhere down the line, Karena began dealing with a number of substance abuse issues. Her grandmother remembers seeing her hanging out with an older crowd, and she was concerned for her granddaughter's future.

"I told her to not go down that path. That there were other, bigger things she could do with her life," Gerry told Dateline. "She had her whole life ahead of her."

Karena appeared to be heeding her grandmother's advice. She had spoken about the possibility of going to a rehabilitation facility in Florida that a girl she knew had told her about. She had begun filling out the paper work.

But then she disappeared.

The rumors and speculation began almost immediately.

Many of the stories are haunting. Gerry says she heard stories that Karena had been killed and buried in a tarp in a woodedarea, or that Karena's body had been thrown into a waterway to hide the crime. Those are the tamest stories Gerry has been told. Because of it all, she doesn't believe Karena is still alive.

"It's just a horrible mess, and the things you hear just make you sick," Gerry said. "I didn't want to believe she was dead. It took me awhile to accept that idea."

Something else that continues to frustrate Karena's family is the lack of attention her case has gotten, both from the media and from the authorities.

Gerry believes Karena's disappearance has not been taken seriously enough by Kokomo police, and that investigators have failed to adequately follow up on a number of tips and leads she has reported to them.

Officials with the Kokomo Police Department are investigating, and a representative for the department told Dateline Tuesday morning the case is open and active. Investigators have reportedly searched several areas with cadaver dogs within the last month, according to Captain Tonda Cockrell.

"Every and all leads are being investigated," Captain Cockrell told Dateline. "The family has been updated on all searches. It's not just leads we're following up on, it's any and all avenues in relation to this case."

Karena's grandmother Gerry also wishes her granddaughter's face would be on the news as much as other cases from the surrounding area. "Because of her race and age and the situation, no one seems to care," Gerry told Dateline. "None of it means that she isn't important. Every person is important and that includes my granddaughter."

Karena's family continues to push on in their search. Gerry and a group of volunteers head out frequently to canvass various areas around town. Flyers are still being posted, and supporters post messages using the hashtag #BringKarenaHome.

The thought that Karena is out there, somewhere, just waiting to be found disturbs Gerry.

"She may have been out there since October. All alone. But where?" Gerry said. "We aren't going to give up until we have her home."

Karena McClerkin is described as 5'4" tall, weighing 130 lbs. with black, curly hair and brown eyes. She has a tattoo on her right forearm.

Anyone with information regarding her case is urged to contact the Kokomo Police Department at (765) 457-1105.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on 3/28 with the latest information from the Kokomo Police Department.