Five years later: Morgan’s mom still has enough hope for everyone
ALMA (AP) — Five years after her daughter disappeared from a Little League ballpark here, Colleen Nick holds onto die hope that the shy but playful girl will return to their sleepy hometown someday.
It doesn’t matter if others don’t share her faith.
“No one else has to believe it because I believe it enough for everyone,” she said. “I think there will be people who will be amazed when Morgan comes home.”
Morgan Nick disappeared June 9, 1995, after going off to catch fireflies with two young friends. A man in a red pickup truck talked to the children moments before the 6-year-old vanished, but few solid clues have surfaced since. “Basically everything we knew in the first 24 hours is what we know now,” said Alma Police Chief Russell White, whose department has gathered so much information that it had to buy a storage shed for the case’s file cabinets.
Like Nick, he still gets excited at new information, but he also looks at the case with the eyes of a law enforcement officer, not those of a parent.
“I do have the hope that she’s still alive, but I have to be somewhat clinical. The odds are, no, she’s not alive,” he said.
June 9,1995, was a Friday. Nick and Morgan left their home in nearby Ozark to attend a Little League baseball game with some friends in Alma. Siblings Logan and Taryn, then just 3 1/2 and 22 months, stayed with Nick’s mother.
For most of that warm night, Morgan stayed by her mother’s side in the bleachers, watching the game.
“It was just one of those really good nights,” Nick said.
Nick said Morgan kept leaning down to untie her mother’s tennis shoes, thinking she wouldn’t notice. She would giggle when Nick saw the undone laces and then try again.
Two of Morgan’s friends kept asking her to come play nearby, but she wanted to stay by her mother. Then, about 10:30 p.m., Morgan asked if she could join the other two to catch fireflies.
“I remember looking her in the face and saying ’I don’t think it’s a good idea,”’ she said.
But her friends assured her the kids in town often played in the nearby field, probably only about 75 yards away, she said.
“Finally, against my better judgment, I told her she could,” Nick said.
She gave her a hug and a kiss, and Morgan ran off with the 8- and 10-year-old.
“The last time I turned, I saw her running across a hill in single file (with the other two),” she said.
At 10:45 p.m., the game ended and the teams streamed to the right of the bleachers. From the left, only the two older children returned from catching fireflies.
“From the time I checked and saw the two kids coming back, I had this horrible feeling,” she said.
The girls said Morgan had some sand in her shoes and was emptying them near Nick’s car. “By the time I got to my car my heart was just pounding,” she said. “I remember thinking that I just missed her.”
Then the girls remembered that a man with a red pickup truck had talked to them while they were playing. Someone called the police.
*•'They began searching right away,” Nick said. By Sunday, the search for the girl and the man in the red pickup truck reached nationwide.
About 300 people were at the park
that night — 300 people who each would be interviewed later by police searching for clues about what happened to the 4-foot tall, 55-pound girl in the green Ozark Area Girl Scouts T-shirt, denim shorts and white leather tennis shoes. “Nobody saw him take her. No one saw them leave,” she said.
Through the years, there have been false spottings of Morgan across the United States, even false confessions, but no Morgan.
This month, she said, seven new federal and state officials were assigned to the case and Alma Detective Sgt Mike Allen said the department plans to release a new composite of the pickup truck driver at the end of June.
“It’s a case as active today as it was five years ago,” Nick said.
Right after the abduction, Nick set a time frame for the return of Morgan: three days. On day four, she and her ex-
husband, John Nick, knew they had to tell their other two children that Morgan was gone.
They brought a counselor to help them.
“We couldn’t find the words to tell our own kids,” she said.
Logan, Nick said, asked his parents: “Why did you lose my sister? Go and get her.”
Morgan would not have run off, Nick said. “She’s shy and she’s afraid of the dark,” she said.
And, she said, Morgan was a girl who signed up for track and then was flustered when they made her run outside. She signed up for Girl Scouts because “they could stay inside and glue stuff,” she told her mother.
Sitting in her office at the Morgan Nick Foundation in Alma, which she set up to help parents of other abducted children, Nick is surrounded by pictures of her three children. In one, Morgan poses in a blue gown at her kindergarten graduation.
“She wanted to be a circus performer and a doctor,” Nick said. “There’s so much potential there. That’s why I search for her the way I do.”
Nick said that at age 4, her son told her he knew what the bad guys were
doing to Morgan: yelling at her all the time and refusing to take her to Chuck E Cheese, a game-filled pizza parlor. What’s been difficult, Nick said, is that as he gets older — he’s now 8 — he’s realizing much worse things could’ve
happened to her.
Three years ago, Nick moved to Alma. She kept her old phone number, just in case. After the move, she set up Morgan’s bedroom again, but the other two children were sharing a room, so one week while they were at Bible school, Nick packed most of Morgan’s things. Some things, like a peanut butter jar “fish tank,” remain in the house. And each sibling took one of her stuffed bears.
The foundation has worked for legislation addressing victim’s rights and assists families whose children are missing. A new “Morgan Nick Alert System” uses the statewide Emergency Broadcast System that connects police and 250 radio stations. When a child under the age of 12 is reported abducted, police can use the Emergency Broadcast System to send information to stations statewide.
The 3,000 residents of Alma, a town in the Arkansas River Valley of western
Arkansas, initially shuttered their children after the abduction and reports of two other attempts by a man driving a red pickup truclc
At Alma the morning of June 9, 1995, a 4-year-old was pulled into a truck at a laundry before being retrieved by her mother. And, the next day, a 9-year-old was grabbed at a Fort Smith convenience store, 10 miles away, and pulled toward the men’s rest room.
“Initially, you didn’t see kids outside,” Nick said.
And the ballpark from where Morgan was taken from is now a parking lot, and a new complex has been built across the street—and with limited access.
“Alma’s no different (from any other small town),” White said. “When it hits here, it makes you feel vulnerable.” But over time, he said, people have returned to letting their children wander across town.
Amy Gunn, 27, works in the town library where a bulletin board is dedicated to missing children, including Morgan. She said some parents watch their children, but some still don’t.
“I think everybody is more aware of the possibility of it happening because it has,” she said.;
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