Mother of missing child searching for answers

Published 3:50 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It was 29 years, four months and 17 days ago that 12-year-old Sherry Lynn Marler disappeared from Greenville without so much as a trace.

But for Sherry’s mother, Betty Stringfellow, not a day has gone by where her daughter’s absence hasn’t been felt.

To that end, Stringfellow will be holding a balloon release in her daughter’s honor Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in the parking lot behind the Ritz Theatre near the Main Street building, which is where Marler was last reported seen.

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And while the event is meant to be a gathering to celebrate Marler’s life, it is also meant to be a gathering of sorts for those who might have some information regarding her mysterious disappearance all those years ago.

“I guess basically what I’m looking for are some answers so I can get some closure,” Stringfellow said.

Marler was last seen around 9:30 a.m. on the morning of June 6, 1984, as she was leaving the former First National Bank parking lot to get a soda from the gas station across the street, which was located in what is now the Main Street building.

She was accompanied by her stepfather, who separated from Marler to take care of business within the bank.

When he’d gotten back to the truck, which is where they were supposed to meet only 15 minutes later, she hadn’t returned.

After waiting an additional 15-20 minutes, he contacted Stringfellow to help find her.

“He started getting worried because it wasn’t like her to not do what we told her to do,” Stringfellow said.

“He called me about 10:15 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. to ask if she’d come over to the Waffle House where I was working. I got off work to help him look for her, but that was the last time we saw her.”

Details were scarce in the months and years that followed, with Stringfellow’s only clues being three separate alleged sightings around the country of Marler with a man described to be about 50 years old and 5-foot-8 with a husky build, a weathered complexion and crow’s feet around his eyes.

And though Stringfellow received a series of composite sketches of the man alleged to be accompanying her daughter, none of the sightings were ever confirmed.

Now, nearly three decades following the incident, Stringfellow has joined Team HOPE, a volunteer program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children composed of family members who have turned their own personal stories into words of encouragement and support for other families dealing with similar issues.

“I’ve had the support of a lot of good people through Team HOPE,” Stringfellow said.

“God gives me the strength and encouragement, and they keep me going.”

And though it’s been nearly three decades since Marler’s disappearance, Stringfellow refuses to close the book on her daughter’s case.

“All I’m asking is that if anybody knows something to please come forward and let somebody know,” Stringfellow said.

“It’s been 29 years and if it was their child, they would want to know.”