Aunt remembers Frankfort niece who was slain in June

On June 17, Stephanie Ethington last spoke on the phone with her niece, Jennifer Downey, just hours before Downey was found murdered.

Ethington said she and Downey were experiencing phone service problems that day, so she did not worry when she had not heard from Downey for a few hours. Ethington said she and Downey were very close and called each other on the phone multiple times a day.

Ethington said her son called Ethington mid-afternoon and said Downey was at the hospital and was unresponsive , but he did not have more information. Ethington found out later that the Franklin County sheriff’s department was investigating a “scene” at Pea Ridge Road.

“I had a funny feeling about something, but I didn’t know what the feeling was. When we got out there, then they told me,” Ethington said.

Downey, 32, was found in the home of Carolyn Barker, 88, on Pea Ridge Road in Franklin County. Downey took care of Barker for almost 4 1/2 years, Ethington said. Both Frankfort women sustained gunshot wounds, the Franklin County sheriff’s department said.

Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said the department is waiting on lab results on physical evidence; there is no suspect in the case.

According to Ethington, Downey worked for Barker five days a week, often going to Barker’s house early in the morning and then returning home to get her five children ready for the day. Ethington would return to Barker’s during the day to help. Downey was fond of Barker and called her Mimi.

“She loved Mimi to death. She thought of her like her own grandmother,” Ethington said.

Downey was one class away from receiving her GED when she died, Ethington said. She also said Downey often played pranks on her family and loved to make people laugh.

Ethington said Downey had made plans to take her five children to see “Finding Dory” at a movie theater on the evening she died.

Downey’s family created a GoFundMe account for Downey’s children, with a goal of $3,000. So far, the campaign has raised $1,140. Ethington said the children are living with their father.

Ethington said she and Downey’s other relatives have felt “lost” since Downey’s death. Ethington lights a candle in the morning and extinguishes it at night for Downey, and Ethington planted two maroon hibiscus flowers in Downey’s memory. Maroon was one of Downey’s favorite colors.

On the day of Downey’s funeral, Ethington said a butterfly flew into her car on the way to cemetery. The butterfly flew around Ethington and landed on her finger. Ethington has seen similar butterflies since. She said she believes the butterfly is a message from Downey.

“I feel her presence,” Ethington said. “I don’t know if anybody else believes in that stuff, but I do.”

McKenna Horsley: 859-231-3197, @mckennahorsley