Weird

Weird Wednesday – A Small Town Tragedy: The Disappearance of Morgan Nick


On the night of June 9, 1995, a blond haired, blue eyed 6-year-old girl named Morgan Nick was chasing fireflies with two friends, Jessica and Tye, in the parking lot of a Little League Baseball game in Alma, AR. After about 15 minutes, around 10:45pm, she stopped at the rear bumper of her mother’s Nissan Stanza to empty sand out of her shoe, while her friends stopped at the front of the car to do the same.

Shoes back on, her two friends headed back to the bleachers where Morgan’s mother, Colleen, had been sitting, within eyesight of the firefly game. The game was over and the parents and families were gathering up their belongings and children to head to the parking lot.

Except one thing was horribly wrong.

The two friends returned to the bleachers, but Morgan didn’t.

The brief moment when she emptied her shoes was the last time anyone saw the quiet, cat loving, gum-chewing little girl.

She disappeared without a trace and despite over 20 years of searching, praying and investigations, Morgan Nick remains a lost child, a little girl who represents every parent’s worst nightmare: that your child can disappear right before your eyes, in a place that you thought was safe, in a small, close-knit Southern town that still mourns and still searches 24 years after that heart-wrenching night.

An Ache That Never Disappears

If you live in Alma, and especially if you move to Alma from “away,” the Morgan Nick case is one of the first things people mention in relation to this small Southern town of 5,000 people. In the 13 years I’ve lived here, I’ve realized that the story of Morgan, of her family, and of the aftermath of her disappearance is as much a part of Alma as it’s location on the map or it’s funny statue of Popeye in the park across from the police station.

Morgan is Colleen’s child, but she is also Alma’s child. Countless people have stood beside Colleen through the years. Many have offered support, prayers and time spent investigating, organizing, and hoping against hope that one day, someday, one of the seemingly small actions performed will bring Alma’s lost child home where she belongs.

Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash

On June 9, 1996, one year after Morgan’s disappearance, friends and family gathered on the ballfield near the parking lot where Morgan was last seen and released pink balloons to mark the tragic anniversary, a tradition that has been repeated in the years since.

Also in 1996, Colleen Nick opened the doors of the Morgan Nick Foundation, a non-profit organization with the motto “Love always hopes.” Her mission was to help parents find their missing children, and ultimately, of course, to help bring Morgan Home. Eventually, Colleen moved to Alma with her other children, a son named Logan and a daughter named Taryn so she could be closer to the Foundation and the investigation.

Since the foundation was started, it has provided services to more than 3,500 missing children and family members and reunited 40+ families. Plus, the MNF provided resources and information to law enforcement, education to schoolchildren, and help and support to lawmakers working to make better laws around missing and exploited children.

In 2019, on the 24th anniversary of Morgan’s disappearance, Colleen still lives in Alma and runs the Morgan Nick Foundation in a small building just down the road from the Primary and Middle schools. Every year, the balloon release on June 9 marks the passing of another year without Morgan. Every year, there is still hope that this will be the year that the one small piece of information needed will surface and will lead to the answers everyone has been searching for.

The Facts of Morgan’s Disappearance

Morgan and her mother attended the baseball game in Alma together, while a family member watched Colleen’s other two children. They sat with friends and watched the games most of the night, but as 10 pm approached, Morgan was restless, as any 6-year-old would be. Her mother was reluctant to let Morgan go with Jessica and Tye to chase fireflies, but was convinced it was safe because she could easily see the field from where she was sitting in the bleachers.

The games wrapped up around 10:45pm, and the 300+ in attendance started to head to their cars. This was when Jessica and Tye ran back to the bleacher area to meet their families, assuming that Morgan was doing the same after emptying her shoes. But when Colleen saw Tye and Jessica, but not Morgan, the first burst of confusion and panic set in.

She asked the children where Morgan was, and they told her Morgan was at Colleen’s car emptying her shoes. When Colleen arrived at her car, there was no sign of Morgan. She approached one of the Little League coaches, and together they talked with Jessica and Tye about the last few moments before Morgan went missing.

This is when the first accounts of the “creepy” man with the red truck were told.

The Suspect in Morgan’s Disappearance

The second police sketch of the suspect in the disappearance of Morgan Nick, released by law enforcement on January 4, 2001.

Both Jessica and Tye, along with several other people in attendance at the game, mentioned seeing a man in the parking lot of the ball field whose presence was unsettling. The known facts about this person, whom no one at the game and  -seemingly – no one anywhere knew, are this:

He was a white male age 23-38 with a short mustache and beard and black or salt-and-pepper hair. He was around 180 pounds and 6 feet tall.

Some who heard him speak describe his accent as “hillbilly,” and both Jessica and Tye described him as creepy. In Jessica’s account of that night, recorded in 2015, she said that she first noticed the man while she was playing with Morgan and Tye near a large sand pile, and that he was leaning against a truck, watching them play.

The truck is an important factor in the incident because everyone who described it noted very distinctive details. According to eyewitnesses, the truck was a Ford pickup truck with dull red paint and a “low wheelbase.” On the back of the truck was a camper with curtains covering the windows that was several feet too short for the truck bed. There was a large dent on the rear of the truck on the passenger side.

Minutes after Colleen approached the Little League coach, the police were called and were at the park in just 6 minutes (the police department is just a couple streets over). In the initial days after the disappearance, police learned that there had been two other attempted abduction events nearby that could be related to Morgan’s.

On June 9, in Alma, a little girl at a laundromat was almost lured into a red truck by a man, but her mother prevented her from being taken. Also, on June 10, the day after Morgan’s disappearance, in Fort Smith, a city about 20 minutes west of Alma, a man with the same description as Morgan’s abductor attempted to lure a 9-year-old girl into the men’s restroom of a convenience store.

Either of these incidents could have been coincidence since tensions around children being abducted were so high, but at least one – the laundromat incident – is thought by many to be the same man who ultimately successfully abducted Morgan.

The Investigation: Heartbreak & Hope

All of the right steps were taken at each step of this heartbreaking incident: a mother at a family event who could literally see her daughter running with friends in her green Girl Scout tshirt and bright white sneakers moments before she disappeared; two young friends who not only provided information about Morgan’s last steps, but also were observant enough to immediately mention the creepy man; and police who were on the scene within minutes of Morgan disappearing.

But still, the case would prove to be vexing for police and Morgan’s family.

The information they had that night was pretty much the information they had overall. This was despite over 4,000 leads pouring in to the Alma Police Department after the incident was picked up by national newscasts. The police department actually purchased a storage shed to keep all the file cabinets of information they had on just this case.

Colleen, Morgan’s mother, took up residence in the Alma Fire Department building for 6 weeks after the disappearance because she did not want to go home until Morgan was found. She occupied her time with posting flyers all over town, getting the information out to whomever could help her, and even contacting President Bill Clinton for help.

As days passed with no sign of Morgan, she knew she had to do the unbearable: tell her two other children their big sister was missing. Colleen and her then-husband John brought a counselor to tell Logan and Taryn the news. They weren’t sure they were going to be able to even say it.

Upon hearing that his big sister was gone, Logan, who was just about to be 4 years old, cried and asked his mother, “Why did you lose my sister? Go get her.”

In an investigation that has spanned more than 20 years at this writing, there have been thousands of false leads and tips, and countless “sightings” of Morgan across the country and the world, but law enforcement have never given up on the possibility that one day, they will come across the one bit of information they need to find Morgan.

Only a handful of tips through the years were credible enough to be examined further, including:

  • The property in Booneville, AR. A tip in 2002 directed investigators to a location in the town of Booneville, about an hour’s drive from Alma. Police believed the information they received contained such specific information as to make it credible enough to follow through on. On January 15, they began digging on the property with a backhoe. Despite spending the entire day – until 9:30 at night – digging, they did not find anything.
  • The abandoned home in Spiro, Oklahoma. An officer investigating an abandoned trailer home in Spiro in 2010 was moved to contact law enforcement in Crawford County, the county Alma is located in, after learning the owner was once considered a viable suspect in the disappearance of Morgan and had not been completely ruled out. The suspect was a convicted child molester and already in prison at the time. Officers checked the property for possible DNA evidence of Morgan but found nothing.
  • The abandoned home in Spiro, revisited. Seven years after initially checking out the Spiro property, law enforcement returned after at tip about a water well was deemed credible. FBI, cadaver dogs, and the local Sherriff did a thorough search but again, nothing.
I drove by this billboard every day on my way from Fort Smith to Alma after it was posted.

The disappearance of Morgan wasn’t just in the hearts of those local to Alma. Over the years, her case has captured the attention of the entire country. In 2001, an episode of Unsolved Mysteries was dedicated to the case. Nancy Grace tackled the case in 2010 on her show Nancy Grace’s Cold Cases.

In 2011, the remodeling show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition partnered with John Walsh, founder of the Center for Missing & Exploited Children, to come to Alma and renovate Colleen’s home and help spread awareness about Morgan’s case and that of other missing children. I remember going to the reveal in 2011. there were people everywhere and it was so hot, as August in Arkansas always is. We toured the home to see what Ty Pennington and his team had done. Upstairs, there was a beautiful bedroom waiting for Morgan to come home to.

Also in 2011, the Alma Police Department hired two retired police detectives specifically to review the Morgan Nick case information and re-interview witnesses. John Tenwolde, retired from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office and Robert Snow, a former investigator with the Suffolk County New York Sherriff’s Office, were also both cold case investigators with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, VA. They were part of a team who helped digitize all the case info the previous year, and planned to be involved in the case until Morgan is found.

Waiting for Morgan to Come Home

To the local police department, even though it’s been 24 years since Morgan disappeared, it’s never been a cold case. Even as late as 2016, the department was still receiving 2-3 tips a day, and tips or leads increase each time new awareness is brought to the case.

In the years following her abduction, the facts about her case have involved clues and searching and suspects and witnesses, but before all that, there was a little girl named Morgan having a fun girl’s night with her mother on a warm June Arkansas night in 1995. This little girl loved to play with her younger brother and sister around the house. She loved to snuggle with her kitten, Emily. When she grew up, she wanted to be a circus performer or a doctor. She loved being a Girl Scout because she could sit inside and do crafts instead of having to be sweaty in other activities like track. Morgan was a daughter, a sister, a fun – but slightly shy – child.

For 24 years, the world has searched for an answer we don’t yet have . . . why isn’t Morgan here and, more importantly, where did she go?

Although thousands still hold out hope that Morgan will come home, none holds on to this certainty more than her mother, Colleen, who spends each day tirelessly helping parents and families of lost children because she knows better than anyone that losing your child is a pain that never ceases.

If you have information on Morgan Nick, call the Alma Police Department at 1-479-632-3930 or The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

References Used:

Timeline: A Look Into Some Of The Twists And Turns In Morgan Nick Case

https://www.nwahomepage.com/around-arkansas/20-years-later-children-who-last-saw-morgan-nick-speak-for-the-first-time/147463469

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/08/18/grace.coldcase.morgan.nick/index.html

http://morgannickfoundation.com/

http://www.angelfire.com/indie/caineworld/morgannick.html

There are also links to watch the Unsolved Mysteries episode at unsolved.com/gallery/morgan-nick/

There is also a Reddit page by poster Nerdfather1 that contains very good information about the case.

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