LITHONIA, Ga. – “Lord, I don't know where Gwen is, but you know where she is. All I ask you to do, is just keep her safe and remember [daughters] Monica and Nicole—make them strong, so they can endure whatever the outcome is. Amen.”
Dorothy Ellington, 76, recites the prayer she says for her “baby” sister’s safe return home. The last time she saw her was June 30 after visiting their oldest sister, Pearl. But she would never arrive at her family’s reunion on July 6.
Her sister, Eva “Gwen” Allen was last seen leaving her group home, located at 3669 Snapfinger Road, in Lithonia, Ga., just off of Interstate 20, around 1 a.m., on July 4.
According to her family, Eva, the youngest of 16 siblings and originally from Tuskegee, Ala., has bipolar disorder for which she takes medication.
“Wherever she is, she needs her medicine,” Ellington said. “I don't know whether they will find her alive or not… because 16 days missing is a long time, and anything could have happened during that period of time.”
Her daughter, Debra “Monica” Allen, last saw her on June 29, when she visited her at the group home where her 67-year-old mom has been living for about nine months, after she was found wandering around on a highway last year.
“Her bipolar flared up and she was caught walking along the expressway. The police picked her up, and nobody could go pick her up at that time of the morning, so they carried her to jail. She stayed in jail for three days and then put her in Grady hospital. And when she went to Grady, they told her that she couldn't live by herself anymore,” Ellington remembered.
It was a hard decision for her two daughters, but Debra said, with both of them working full-time jobs, they just couldn’t give her the round-the-clock care she needed.
“She needs somebody watching her all day. She needs somebody making sure that she's taking her medicine.”
“Ever since I can remember, I knew about her condition with bipolar. She has a manic state where she gets really hyper, not really rational—just do things just spur of the moment,” Debra said. “You can't really be prepared for it and it's not manageable. That has happened [to her] throughout my life.”
But since the group home is voluntary, she doesn’t have to stay. She is not legally remanded there. And when she is in a manic state, Debra said, there’s nothing anyone can do.
“If she's set to leave, she's gonna go.”
It’s a scary thought for her family.
“People don't realize that if the person with bipolar goes into a manic state, they hallucinate; they don't sleep—so, that automatically makes you delusional,” Debra said, tears welling up in her eyes.
She explained what her mother's manic episodes have been like in the past.
“You go out. You do whatever you can. You just act irrationally sometimes—just, you don't think through everything. And it's not because they want to harm anyone, or anything like that. It's just that, if they're not on their medication... they can't really control it.”
In fact, she said, people have told her that if her mother isn’t harming herself or others then there’s no urgency behind her disappearance.
“She is harming herself and she is putting herself in danger—or anybody else, if she's not getting the medication that she needs,” Debra said about the grandmother of four.
She said that she wants the public to understand that her family and her mother are not alone. And that this heartache can happen to anyone.
“You can be put in the same mental state as her or anybody else. It doesn't take a lot for somebody to have a mental illness,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks faster than she can wipe them away.
“I just want them to know that she really has a big heart and she really is a nice person, and she just needs help right now.”
Every year, nearly 3 percent of both men and women in the U.S., are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with almost 83 percent those being considered severe.
Causes may vary from genetics, stress and brain structure and are split into two main symptoms like depression, an extremely low emotion, both physically and mentally, and mania, an extreme high, according to the NAMI website.
Those with bipolar experience irritability, euphoria, agitation, sleeplessness, talkativeness, sadness and hopelessness, as well as “extreme pleasure-seeking or risk-taking behaviors.”
It’s been nearly 20 days since her mom has vanished, but she hasn’t stopped searching for her. She's handed out and posted flyers at gas stations, churches, Walmart and hospitals near where she was last seen.
She’s called hospitals, jails and her mom’s cell phone repeatedly, until it died on July 9.
Debra and her sister pulled Eva’s phone records and found that it appeared she had been using her phone, however, not answering their calls.
“That's why this is such a big deal for us. She has not called anyone,” Debra said.
According to the cell phone records, she said, from July 2 up until July 9, someone was dialing 1-2-3, indicating possible confusion—and making her family believe that she is starting to forget things and now doesn’t know how to contact them.
“She's never just gone and never been in contact with anyone. She's always contacted a family member or a friend, within a short period of time. We've always known at least where she was or how she was doing, or that she was fine,” Debra said.
“It's unusual. Even though she's been in her manic state and she's bipolar… this is not like her.”
Right now, the large, tight-knit family is praying.
“I hope for the best, but, I don't know. It seems kind of dreary right now,” Ellington said. “All we can do is just pray. Just pray for Gwen [Eva]. It's all we can do.”
Eva was last seen wearing a maroon shirt and black pants. She is described as a black female, with black hair and brown eyes. She is 5’2, 120 lbs., with glasses.
Debra wants her mom to know to know that she's not giving up.
“I love you; we love you. We're praying for you. We just want to know that you're safe and please come home.”
If you have any information about Eva’s whereabouts, call 911, or the DeKalb County Police at (678) 406-6792.
For information or assistance for mental illness, email NAMI at email@example.com, or call the helpline is 800-950-NAMI or to find help in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 74174.