You hear it all the time; “Back then, people didn’t lock their doors at night.” That phrase often gets mentioned when devastating crimes occur in unexpected places that are deemed safe by the community. When those tragedies happen everything changes, but sometimes positives can blossom through the aftermath of the rubble. In the unsolved disappearance of Morgan Nick, her story has remained a beacon of hope that transcended across the nation. This is her story.
On September 12, 1988, John and Colleen Nick gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby daughter they named Morgan Chauntel Nick. She was raised in the small populated town of Ozark, Arkansas, a community of fewer than 4,000 residents. By 1994, Morgan became the oldest of two other siblings, Logan Nick, who was almost four-years-old, and a younger sister, Taryn Nick, who was a vibrant 22-month-old baby.
As a young kid with a wild imagination, Morgan’s aspirations ranged from being a medical doctor to a circus performer. In school, she had signed up for the track team but quickly regretted that decision because she didn’t enjoy sweating. In turn, she decided to start participating in Girls Scouts where they often did indoor activities.
Even at such a young age, Morgan possessed character traits that would undoubtedly lead to a successful future, no matter which avenue she pursued. Not only did she have the uncanny ability to make others laugh, she also never limited herself to experiencing new things. When she was five-years-old, she adopted a kitten she named Emily, and a motherly bond was immediately formed. From then on, the two were thick as thieves and Emily would always be found sleeping next to her at night.
The potential Morgan had was very bright. She enjoyed being around others and people loved being around her, but on a summer day in 1995, everything that should have been for Morgan’s future was snuffed out, and the young girl with a heartwarming smile that could make anyone laugh suddenly had an entire community in shambles.
On the warm summer day of Friday, June 9, 1995, Colleen Nick wanted to share an afternoon with her oldest daughter, Morgan, because they hadn’t had a day for themselves in a long while. They planned to visit Alma, Arkansas — a quaint town thirty minutes west where everyone knew each other — to attend a Little League Baseball game with some friends living in the area while Morgan’s grandmother happily babysits her grandchildren.
Later that afternoon, Colleen and Morgan dined on grilled cheese sandwiches they made together before leaving town in their Nissan Stanza a little early, as this was their first time visiting Alma. They arrived at the local park where the baseball game was being held without a hitch and met up with their friends. By the time the game had started, there was a total of 300 people in attendance.
Throughout the entire evening, everyone was having a wonderful time — people could be heard roaring with cheers and laughter on the bleachers, and Morgan would sneakily untie her mother’s tennis shoes when she wasn’t looking for a funny joke. As time carried on, Morgan became restless. At 10:30 p.m. two of Morgan’s friends, 8-year-old Jessica and 10-year-old Tye [last names are omitted] invited her to play in the nearby field 75-yards away to catch lightning bugs. Morgan asked her mother for permission but Colleen was hesitant due to the late hour and being unfamiliar with the area, but her friends assured her everything would be okay because kids often played in the field next to the parking lot without any hiccups.
Colleen ultimately gave her consent but told her to stay in view. Morgan was hard to miss, as her green Girl Scouts t-shirt and white tennis shoes could easily be seen from a distance. Colleen would periodically glance over to check on Morgan and nothing seemed amiss as she and her two friends pranced across the field, where the parking lot light poles loomed over illuminating the area.
Fifteen minutes had quickly passed by and at 10:45 p.m. the baseball game concluded and people were beginning to gather their belongings and walk to their vehicles. Morgan’s two friends, Jessica and Tye, ran back to the bleachers to meet up with their families but Morgan wasn’t present.
Colleen, confused by the situation, asked where Morgan was, but they said she was in the parking lot near her car emptying out sand that filled her shoes from running amok in the field. She frantically ran to her car expecting her daughter to be there, but she wasn’t in sight. Growing more concerned by the second, she alerted one of the baseball coaches and they began asking Jessica and Tye more questions, and alarming new information came to light.
The two said that while they had been playing, a man they characterized as “creepy” approached and spoke to them as they were dumping sand from their shoes. He had been standing beside a faded red colored Ford pickup truck that had a white camper shell. Not too long after, the baseball game had ended and that’s when they ran back to their parents. An immediate search began but Morgan and the eerie man next to the red truck was gone.
The police were called to the scene and they arrived within six minutes. They performed an additional search thoroughly of the parking lot and fields, but the 4-foot-tall, 55-pound girl with blonde hair and blue eyes was nowhere to be found. Interviews were soon conducted with those still at the park. Several eyewitnesses corroborated the children’s testimony and provided additional details on the suspicious male. He was described as a Caucasian male between the ages of 23-38-years-old and spoke with a “hillbilly” accent. He had a medium build at approximately 180 pounds and was estimated to be 6’0 tall, and he had salt and pepper colored hair that was slicked back, with a mustache and a one-inch thick beard. The truck he was driving was a low wheelbase, red Ford pickup with dulled paint and a white camper shell that had curtains on the inside covering the windows. Witnesses noted the camper shell was too short for the bed and there was rear damage on the passenger side.
The unidentified male was the prime suspect in Morgan’s disappearance and was immediately classified as an abduction. It was soon discovered that her vanishing wasn’t the only terrifying event that transpired that day. Earlier that evening in the same town, an unknown male driving a red truck attempted to lure a 4-year-old girl to his vehicle. The abduction was thwarted when the child’s mother intervened and alerted those around her. It’s unclear whether or not the same man presumably responsible for Morgan’s disappearance was behind this attempted abduction, but the coincidences were notable.
Interestingly, the following day after Morgan vanished, another report came through to the police when an unnamed man matching Morgan’s alleged abductor’s description unsuccessfully tried enticing a 9-year-old girl into a men’s restroom inside of a convenience store fifteen miles away from Alma in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
As for Colleen, she refused to return back home to Ozark, Arkansas without her daughter in hand. For the next six weeks, she remained steadfast and took up residence at a volunteer fire station located next door to the police building — doing anything she could fathom to help spread awareness to bring Morgan home. Flyers were made and distributed to locals, placed on the windows of stationary vehicles, and stapled across light poles all throughout the town. Colleen even faxed over urgent letters to President Clinton hoping to get the federal government to react quicker with nationwide bulletins when children go missing.
During this interval of time, a composite sketch was created of Morgan’s possible kidnapper and media coverage quickly swept the state. This resulted in over 4,000 tips and leads, and the police had to purchase a storage shed to file the uncanny amount of information in extra filing cabinets, but none of the leads panned out.
When Colleen returned home she had to break the devastating news to her children. None of them couldn’t fully comprehend the extent of the situation. Logan, the oldest sibling, only knew that Morgan wasn’t home and would frequently ask, “Why did you lose my sister?” as he broke down into tears repeatedly telling his mother to “Go get her,” because he missed playing with her around the house.
One year later in 1996, Colleen commenced the Morgan Nick Foundation in Alma, Arkansas; a non-profit organization that tries to help prevent children from going missing and offers a support system to families who are facing the hardships of a child disappearing. Likewise, the state of Arkansas honored Morgan by renaming their Amber Alert system after her — The Morgan Nick Amber Alert — that connected the police and over 250 radio stations in a statewide emergency broadcast.
In the subsequent years, Colleen relocated to Alma to make things easier for handling the Morgan Nick Foundation. Meanwhile, the police were still acquiring innumerable tips stemming from reported sightings and false confessions to the abduction, but all of them were ruled out or considered unreliable.
In 2001, Morgan’s case garnished a lot of traction. A new composite sketch was unveiled of her believed kidnapper, as well as an age-progression sketch showing what Morgan may look like at her current age of twelve-years-old. On August 28, 2001, the television program Unsolved Mysteries broadcasted her case which created a massive resurgence that resulted in an ample amount of new tips.
One particular tip suggested that Morgan’s body could be located on a private property in Booneville, Arkansas. The information was deemed so specific and credible that the police initiated an immediate examination on January 15, 2002. After a full day of digging with a backhoe, nothing was unearthed and the investigation was concluded at 9:30 p.m.
In the following years, the police were still receiving regular tips but they were either dead ends or exhausted to their fullest without any positive results, but on the bitterly cold morning of November 16, 2010, a narcotics officer thirty-five miles away in Spiro, Oklahoma, alerted investigators in Crawford County to an abandoned trailer home belonging to a convicted child molester who was serving time in prison. The information supplied wasn’t directly focused on Morgan’s case specifically, but the individual had been considered a viable person of interest since the very beginning of Morgan’s case and hadn’t been ruled out. Detectives in Crawford County assisted with the investigation at the property hoping to locate any DNA evidence pertaining to Morgan but none was uncovered.
Two years later on June 23, 2012 — a little more than 17-years after Morgan disappeared — a brief glimmer of hope emerged and then diminished just as quickly in a despicable turn of events. Tonya Renee Smith, a 24-year-old Hollister, Missouri native who had served time in Louisiana State Prison, tried assuming Morgan Nick’s identity by purchasing vital documents and a birth certificate via the website VitalCheck. Due to the extreme nature of Morgan’s case the police were alerted and on August 2, 2012, Tonya was apprehended in Branson, Missouri. She was soon extradited to Arkansas and spent 120 days in Pulaski County Jail. On February 28, 2013, she was charged with computer fraud and sentenced to six years of probation and ordered to pay a $2,500.00 fine.
Once again, Morgan’s case turned into a standstill, but five years later on December 18, 2017, another seemingly crucial tip regarding a water-well led investigators back to the abandoned trailer home in Spiro, Oklahoma they had searched seven years prior. The LeFlore County Sheriff, Rob Seale, along with the FBI and numerous Cadaver dogs, spent the entire afternoon combing for evidence, but regrettably, their efforts proved fruitless.
It’s now 2018 and Morgan Nick has been missing for nearly 22-years. For the town of Alma, Arkansas, many things have changed since the unfateful day of Morgan’s disappearance, including the baseball field she vanished from, which has since been remodeled into a parking lot, but her spirit still lives on in the community.
At the public library, a bulletin board can be found that features flyers for missing children. There’s also a 5K/1 Mile Walk fundraiser hosted annually that helps provide extra resources for The Morgan Nick Foundation to further help prevent children going missing — an organization that has successfully solved over 40 missing person’s cases –many of whom had gone missing for over twenty years — and returned home safely.
As for Colleen Nick, she remains undaunted that her daughter will be found alive, saying “No one else has to believe it because I believe it enough for everyone. I think there will be people who will be amazed when Morgan comes home.” Though a considerable amount of time has gone by, she continues to fight and pursue closure. While others may not share the same sentiment, Colleen does, and her relentless faith is a testament for anyone struggling with something in their life. Never give up hope.