Monica Renee Bowie telephoned her mother in Pittsburgh twice on July 4.
"We talked about her wedding plans," says her mother, Linda Howard. "She's getting married on March 30, next year."
It was the last time they spoke.
Howard flew to Atlanta last Friday to take part in a public search of her daughter's neighborhood near Lenox Square mall. DeKalb County police say she was kidnapped on July 5 from the parking lot of the Berkshires at Lenox Park apartments.
"Let her go," Howard says. "I'm not interested in prosecution. I just want my daughter back."
Local TV stations and the AJC have reported Bowie's disappearance and subsequent search efforts, but with less frequency, follow-up and gusto than they gave Jennifer "Runaway Bride" Wilbanks or even the recent East Atlanta kidnappings of two young attorneys.
The national media (CNN, Fox and syndicated tabloid programs) have ignored it.
Howard thinks police are doing all they can to find her daughter, but she – along with other family members and friends – is frustrated by the relative lack of media exposure Bowie's kidnapping has received. "Maybe it's because she's my daughter, but there are smaller events that have gotten covered," Howard says.
Bloggers and commentators on several local news sites (including CL) blame the relative lack of attention paid to Bowie's disappearance by the media on Bowie's skin color – sentiments echoed by one of the several local news cameramen who recorded last Thursday's canvassing of a west Atlanta neighborhood by some of Bowie's friends.
"For it to be national news, she has to be blond and white and cute," the cameraman said. "It's sad."
Art Harris, a two-time Emmy-winning investigative journalist who worked at CNN for 13 years, says that, in his experience, TV news producers do indeed prefer blond, blue-eyed victims. But he says physical appearance is just one of several factors.
TV news producers, Harris says, are less inclined to go all-out to cover victims whose plight may appear ambiguous, the result of their own reckless or criminal behavior.
If that's the case, Bowie's appeal to TV producers was fatally undermined by two pieces of her biography.
First, she was arrested for marijuana and gun possession in June. Her attorney, Gerald Griggs, says it's the first time she was ever arrested and that the charges were ultimately dropped. Secondly, she has, at times, worked as a stripper since moving to Atlanta in 1999.
"She's as deserving a human being as anyone, but her story isn't an easy sell to TV producers," says Harris, now a news blogger at artharris.com and a correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight." "That could change fast if the investigation reveals she's a clear-cut, damsel-in-distress victim."
At 11:19 p.m. on July 5, DeKalb County police responded to a 911 call reporting a disturbance in the parking lot of the Berkshires at Lenox Park apartments, where Bowie lives. Witnesses told police they heard a woman screaming for help.
According to the police incident report, officers found signs of a struggle in a numbered parking space, including a woman's jacket, eyeglasses and two broken fingernails. Papers found by police in the parking space bore Bowie's name.
Witnesses said a burgundy Mercury Sable parked in the space earlier that day sped away from the parking lot after witnesses reported the screams. The car was later found abandoned in west Atlanta. According to news reports, it was badly damaged by fire.
Jasper Keels, 24, of Decatur was arrested July 8 for stealing the car from an acquaintance, and for possession of drugs, but he denies any involvement in Bowie's disappearance. Police won't say if they believe he was involved in the kidnapping. He is still in custody.
Another possible suspect identified by DeKalb County police is 27-year-old Lonnie Bennett of Atlanta. According to a police incident report, Bennett was seen "coming out of or near" Bowie's apartment after the alleged kidnapping.
Pulled over after leaving the parking deck at Bowie's apartment complex, Bennett's car contained what police describe as a "large paper bag" that contained cash. Police would not confirm how much money was in the bag, only that it was a "large amount." Bennett has been in and out of Fulton County Jail on narcotics charges, as well as theft and sexual-battery charges.
Griggs, Bowie's lawyer, is acting as a local spokesman in Atlanta for Bowie's family. Asked if Bowie is acquainted with Bennett, he replied, "No, he's an acquaintance of Shernotta Walters."
Walters, according to Bowie's friends and family, is Bowie's fiance. He was arrested in June, during the same incident that led to Bowie's arrest, for drug possession and felony possession of a firearm. At the time, Walters was on parole after having served almost two years in prison for drug offenses.
He was in jail when Bowie was kidnapped. Her mother says she spoke to Walters in jail and does not believe he was involved with the kidnapping.
Bowie's family and friends describe the 34-year-old as a sweet, hard-working, vivacious entrepreneur who owns her own fashion and music-promotion businesses. "Monica's a really good person," says her cousin, Lateshya Ellis. "If you sat with Monica, she would wow you."
Some say Bowie's family isn't media-savvy enough to draw national attention to her kidnapping the way the press has latched onto other disappearances. "Laci Peterson's family worked the media," says a former CNN producer who now works for a local station. "They kept having press conferences and prayer vigils."
Harris says the family's public response to a kidnapping is a critical factor determining what kind of coverage it will receive.
"This is going to sound sick," Harris says. "But they've got to be loud and market her life and convince the media that she deserves to be loved as much they love her. People who can figure out how to work the system get much better results."
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