Sunday is an important day for Jonnie Carter, but it’s not a good one.
It’s the 17th anniversary of when her daughter, Bethany Markowski, went missing in Jackson reportedly at Old Hickory Mall. She hasn’t been found since.
“It’s been difficult just not knowing where she is or how she’s doing, and there have been times where we thought law enforcement had a lead or even found her only to find out that wasn’t the case,” Carter said. “And then it’s like we’ve lost her all over again.”
Markowski has been missing since her father, Larry, reportedly stopped in Jackson at the mall to give him a chance to take a nap while his daughter, who was 11 years old at the time, went into the mall for a little while before he returned her to Carter after a weekend visit.
He woke up not knowing where she was, and mall security footage never indicated she entered the mall. No one was charged with her abduction, and no other answers have been found.
Local podcaster Brandon Barnett is highlighting the case on his podcast: “Searching for Ghosts Season 2: Where is Bethany Markowski?”
“The podcast has done a lot to bring awareness back to Bethany’s case because it’s been 17 years, and unsolved cases like this tend to fall through the cracks of people’s attention,” Carter said.
While law enforcement search for Bethany, Carter has directed her efforts in helping keep children safe from being in a similar situation to her daughter. She’s not only become an advocate for her daughter, but for families of missing children all over the state.
“Not a lot of people know this, but 74 children went missing in the state of Tennessee last year,” Carter said. “An average of 2,000 people a day disappear.
“Most are runaways or parental abductions, but just because a parent has a child doesn’t mean the child is safe.”
Sunday will mark the second year that March 4 is Missing Children’s Day in the state of Tennessee.
“May 25 is National Missing Children’s Day, but we had nothing here to keep people in our state aware,” Carter said. “So Daren Jernigan and I got together and pushed for some kind of recognition and awareness about all the children that go missing and the cases that still haven’t been solved yet.”
Jernigan is a state representative in Middle Tennessee.
Carter lives in the Nashville area now after having lived in Gleason with her daughter and ex-husband.
Carter said one thing she wishes was different about her daughter’s case that made it more difficult to track her down after she went missing was not having her fingerprints on file, so Sunday will be a time for parents to change that in Lebanon.
At 4 p.m. on Sunday at Permobil’s mobile wheelchair manufacturing facility (300 Duke Dr. in Lebanon), there will be a candlelight vigil and balloon release for missing children and their families. There will also be free fingerprint kits available for every child in attendance.
“Fingerprinting Bethany would’ve been helpful because there have been times even as recent as a year-and-a-half ago when they thought she’d been found, but we don’t have her fingerprints,” Carter said. “So now, nearly two decades later, it’s almost impossible to figure out where she is.”
The recent possibility of Bethany’s return was a girl in East Tennessee claiming to be her, but Carter wasn’t allowed to see her unless law enforcement she was dealing with thought it was her. The claim was not deemed credible.
“If we’d had her fingerprinted, we could’ve checked,” Carter said. “So I’d love to see every child’s fingerprints on record for that very purpose.”
Carter said she hopes awareness of Tennessee Missing Children’s Day expands as well. The event in Lebanon is the only one she’s aware of happening in the state.
“So many children go missing now, and we have technology to know about them with Amber alerts being send to smart phones and everything now,” Carter said. “But I now help families through these horrible situations, and we can’t let any of these children be forgotten.
“It’s not just about Bethany now for me. It’s about all of our children. And if Bethany came home tomorrow, I’d probably take a break from the work I do in helping in these efforts, but I’d be back after some time because it’s become something that needs awareness and continued help from everyone that can. Families need answers, and children need to come home.”
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