How Missing Person Organizations Benefit Us All
Tragedies can affect communities and society as a whole. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference that impacts us all.
It was 24 years ago, on June 9, 1995, that a little girl vanished at a Little League baseball game in the small town of Alma, Ark., within the River Valley at the edge of the majestic Ozark Mountains. Beautiful Morgan Chauntel Nick, age 6, with long blonde hair and blue eyes has not been seen since.
Morgan Nick is the eldest of three other children. She loved cats and according to her mother Colleen Nick, she was a shy little girl. A Girl Scout, Morgan loved bubble gum and said she wanted to be a doctor or a circus performer when she grew up.
The evening of her disappearance, a friend of the Nick family had invited them to a baseball game about 30 minutes away. Colleen told Dateline; the game started late at approximately 9:00 p.m. that night.
Morgan sat in the bleachers with her mom nearly the entirety of the game but towards the end, two kids, a boy and a girl, a few years older than Morgan, asked if Morgan could go catch fireflies with them.
Colleen recalls initially telling Morgan no, but other parents told the worried mother that the kids play in the parking lot all of the time and would be safe.
Colleen ended up telling Morgan she could go play with the other children. “She threw her arms around my neck, kissed my cheek, then the kids all ran out to the parking lot,” said Colleen. “I could turn my head and see she was right there in sight. I checked on them three or four times.”
At the end of the baseball game, Colleen watched as the team walked off the field, momentarily looking away from Morgan who was playing behind the bleachers. When she turned around, she could see the two other children, but Morgan was no longer with them.
Colleen asked the children where Morgan was, and they told her Morgan was at her car emptying sand out of her shoes. “Already, when I couldn’t see Morgan, my heart started beating really fast,” Colleen said in a Dateline interview. “We were somewhere we hadn’t been before. She wouldn’t go anywhere by herself, and there wasn’t even anywhere to go,” Colleen said. “There was no concession stands, no bathrooms.”
Confusion and panic set in for Colleen.
Within minutes a spectator called the police to report Morgan missing. Police responded within six minutes.
Chief Russell White of the Alma Police Department told Dateline that the initial officer on the scene immediately suspected “we might have a bigger problem.” “They did have a lot of manpower or resources, but they did a whole lot right that first night,” Colleen said.
“The other two kids that were playing with Morgan separately told the police about a creepy man in a red pick-up truck with a white camper shell on the back,” Colleen said.
Authorities immediately began an intensive investigation.
“We reached out for help from local agencies, the state police, the FBI,” Chief White said. “We were running a pretty big crew. The FBI brought in lots of extra people and resources and we did not have, like a computer system that could handle this kind of case, which helped tremendously.”
According to Colleen, Morgan’s case files fill up an entire room at the police department. “We have tons of tips coming in every week,” Chief White said. “It’s very unusual for a 24-year-old case to still have so many leads.”
Despite the thousands of leads received in Morgan’s case, she remains missing.
A Mother Fights Back
“She’s not a number. She’s not a statistic. She’s not a case file. She is a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend. And she is someone worth fighting for,” Colleen told Dateline. “If you’re not on the front line fighting for your daughter, no one else will. So, it is my job to make sure she never gets lost. Until someone can prove to me that Morgan is not coming home, then I am going to fight for her.”
In the years following Morgan’s disappearance, Colleen started the Morgan Nick Foundation to help prevent other families from going through what she has experienced, to raise awareness of other missing children, and educate the public on safety for children. The foundation also provides crucial support to other families of missing children.
Over the years Colleen has received a countless number of recognitions and awards from the FBI, state of Arkansas, to the International Homicide Investigator’s Association, for her work throughout the state of Arkansas throughout the country.
“When something so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great value,” said Colleen. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.”
24 years later, Colleen continues to selflessly work within her community and nationwide to the benefit of families and children throughout the country.
The National Impact of John Walsh
We often forget there is a personal story behind many monumental efforts in this nation and John Walsh is certainly the epitome.
Adam Walsh, age 6, was a little boy whose disappearance and murder changed the way society looked at missing children.
On the afternoon of July 27, 1981, Adam’s mother took him shopping at a local mall in Hollywood, Fla. Reve Walsh had wanted to inquire about the price of a lamp at the Sears department store.
Momentarily, Reve left Adam at an Atari video game display where several other little boys were taking turns playing on the display. When Reve returned, she couldn’t find Adam or the other boys and was told by the store manager that the security guard had asked them all to leave the store.
Adam was paged over the intercom as his mother searched the store and mall for about an hour. She then called the Hollywood Police Department at approximately 1:55 p.m. to report Adam missing.
Tragically, on August 10, 1981, a severed head of a child was found in a drainage canal alongside the Florida Turnpike in Vero Beach, about 130 miles from Hollywood. It was confirmed it was Adam. His body has never been found.
Early on, Adam’s parents John and Reve Walsh were critical of the police investigation which led to John’s anti-crime activism and the creation of America’s Most Wanted which he is well known for.
Lesser known is his impact on laws and organizations for missing children. During the 1980s, John and other child advocates lobbied Congress to pass a law that would protect missing children and educate the public on the importance of child safety resulting in the Missing Children’s Assistance Act and the first national clearinghouse of information for missing children.
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan creating the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and a 24-hour hotline 1-800-THE-LOST.
Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, NCMEC has regional office in California, Florida, New York and Texas.
According to NCMEC, in 2018 there were 424,066 entries of missing children in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
35 years later, NCMEC provides support to thousands of families of missing children each year, missing children’s case management, provides training to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and offers numerous educational programs that fight child exploitation, sex trafficking, and provides critical information to keep our children safe.
Black & Missing Foundation
Tamika Huston vanished into thin air on or around May 27, 2004, from Spartanburg, S.C. and subsequently found murdered.
Spartanburg was Derrica Wilson’s hometown and she recalls watching as Tamika’s family struggled to gain any media coverage on a local or national level while Tamika was missing. A few months later, Natalee Holloway – a white woman – went missing and dominated news headlines, becoming a household name.
“It was heartbreaking to see the difference in the media attention these two cases were getting,” Derrica told Jet Magazine.
Derrica and her sister-in-law Natalie decided to team up to ensure other families did not face the obscurity that Tamika’s family had experienced. “We combined our professional backgrounds – mine in law enforcement and Natalie’s in media – to create an organization that joins the very important elements in the field of missing persons,” said Derrica.
Founded in 2008, a veteran law enforcement official and a public relations specialist began channeling their skills for a greater good.
Eleven years later, Black and Missing Foundation has become the primary voice for minority missing providing a platform of hope for the overwhelming number of missing persons of color.
On the afternoon of January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was last seen riding her bike in a parking lot near her home in Arlington, Texas. A witness reported seeing a man in a black, flat-bed truck snatch Amber from her bicycle.
Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek approximately 3.2 miles from her home. Her murder remains unsolved.
Area residents were outraged and began calling radio and television stations to vent their anger and to also offer suggestions to prevent such crimes in the future. One resident, Diana Simone suggested utilizing the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to notify the public when a child has been abducted so the public could also assist in the search. Simone followed up with a letter, with her only request to ensure the program would be dedicated to Amber Hagerman.
The program was eventually taken to NCMEC with a request to implement a national initiative that would eventually become known as the AMBER Alert. What began as a local effort in the area of the Dallas-Fort Worth area has grown into a seamless system used by every state in the country. Since the inception of the program in 1996, through December 31, 2018, 956 children have been safely recovered specifically as a result of an AMBER Alert being issued.
“When something so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great value,” as Colleen said. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.” Most certainly, the advancements made in the last 35 years are proof the efforts of one person can make a difference.