This isn't the first time the friends and family of Jenny Sweet have lost touch with her, but they're concerned this time might be different.
Sweet, 36, had been reaching out for help on social media before her sudden disappearance last month, according to two of her close friends. She had gotten out of an abusive relationship months earlier, her friends said, but that left her homeless with few resources during the pandemic. That, combined with a history of substance abuse and mental illness, led to her being trapped in an even more dangerous situation, her friends said.
"She said shelters turned her away," said a lifelong friend, Ariana Breaud. "And I believe that because during the pandemic, there were capacity concerns and the same thing was true with rehab facilities. I do think she tried, but I think she hit some dead ends."
Kristen Kahanek, another friend who is acting as a spokesperson for Sweet's family, said Sweet agreed to seek medical treatment for open wounds and bruises last month if someone secured care for her beloved dog, a Pyrenees mix named Luna. Kahanek said she made arrangements, and Sweet suddenly stopped answering calls and messages April 14. Her phone is now turned off, her friends said.
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Sweet was reported missing to the Lafayette Police Department on April 19, according to agency spokesperson Cpl. Bridgette Dugas. Sweet was reportedly last seen with her boyfriend, Richard Ramsey Jr., at the Super 7 motel, 2111 Evangeline Thruway.
Sweet's friends took matters into their own hands after hearing little from police about the case. They posted digital flyers on social media over the weekend and shared paper flyers with business owners in the neighborhood where their friend was last seen Monday.
"We're genuinely worried," Kahanek said. "It's just a difficult situation to navigate because of the homelessness and the pitfalls of mental illness and substance abuse and how it's not taken seriously. We're campaigning on the north side at the advice of the officer in charge of the case because he said we have just as much of a chance of finding her as they do, which makes me think they're not taking it very seriously. It's disheartening."
Kahanek and Sweet met when they were 18 through mutual friends and grew closer in their 20s through their shared love for costume designing and belly dancing. Sweet managed Lafayette's Hancock Fabrics store for years after studying fashion design, political science and English in college.
About six years ago, they drifted apart. Kahanek said Sweet was in an abusive relationship that isolated her from her passions and friends. That relationship ended when her boyfriend overdosed, Kahanek said.
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"I hadn't talked to her for a while when she started popping up on Facebook pleading for help," Kahanek said. "Some of her friends and I got concerned and started trying to engage with her at the end of March."
Some of Sweet's recent public Facebook posts allege abuse and include graphic images of open sores, bruises and other skin wounds. Her posts also convey a mistrust of health care providers. She hasn't posted publicly since April 12.
Breaud has been friends with Sweet since 1996, when they were sixth-graders at Lafayette Middle School. They grew up together, spending time together as classmates, friends and coworkers.
"She had her whole life going for her," Breaud said. "She was a great dancer, a good student, very smart. She could have been a great fashion designer. She made it seem so effortless. And she made one mistake that kind of snowballed."
Breaud said she lost touch with Sweet for about two years at the height of her addiction, but the friends reconnected again in late 2019 just before the pandemic.
Sweet was always there to listen or lecture Breaud when she needed it most, and Breaud said she's ready to return the favor to her lifelong friend.
"We have help lined up for her," Breaud said. "We just have to find her, and she has to be willing to accept it. She's such a bright light. It's sad to see her this way. Hopefully she sees all the people who are willing to help her."
Anyone who has any information on Sweet's whereabouts is asked to call the Lafayette Police Department at 337-291-8600.
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