There wasn’t a dry eye in the room Thursday at the Hole in the Wall Café when the Women’s Leadership Network at the University of Central Arkansas heard Colleen Nick’s account of the day her daughter, Morgan, went missing.
Nick walked the group through June 9, 1995, and the “journey through the nightmare of child abduction.”
The mother of three said the family traveled to Alma, Arkansas, to watch friends of the family play in a little league game at the town’s ballpark.
It was just Colleen and Morgan who joined the group on that fateful day.
Nick said two young boys in the group she was with were out playing in the parking area, a relatively safe activity, according to residents at the game.
The duo kept asking Morgan, 6 years old at the time, to come but the young girl, quiet and shy, answered with a ‘no.’
Nick said it was around 10:30 p.m. when the two boys asked her again to play -- this time, wanting to catch fireflies.
“Against my better judgement, I told Morgan that she could go and play,” Nick said, tears gathering in her eyes. “She threw her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug and she kissed me on my cheek and the three of them ran into the parking area.”
From where she sat in the bleachers, Nick said she could see the group play. After the game, though, the excited team’s presence, took her focus away, for only three to four short minutes.
After looking again, the two boys, not Morgan, were visible, though, they told Nick the girl was just emptying sand from her shoes by the family car.
Nick searched the car … Morgan wasn’t there.
“I remember standing in front of my car thinking that if everyone would just stand still, just for a moment, that I would be able to find her ... that we were somehow just missing each other,” she said.
After the parking lot was clear, just a few remaining stragglers, Nick said it became clear that Morgan was no longer there.
A call to law enforcement was made — they responded in six minutes — and within hours, nearly a dozen outside agencies including the FBI, U.S. Marshalls and the Arkansas State Police had made their way to the town of around 3,500.
Searches began and law enforcement talked to the two boys, who said they came across a creepy man in the parking lot who approached the three of them at one time angry, driving a red truck with a white camper shell, who, at the time, was deemed best suspect.
Nick said the family ended up staying in the volunteer fire station for six weeks.
“For us to go home without Morgan was just not a possibility,” she said. “We needed to be where our investigation was, where law enforcement was, where if Morgan came back to that ball fields we would be there.”
Press conferences were held every day, twice a day, for weeks, law enforcement set up phones for a 24/7 tip line, everyone running themselves ragged, especially the police, who Nick said, “did not quit.”
For the first four days, she said she was able to hide what was going on from Morgan’s siblings, Logan, almost 4 years old, and Taryn, who was just short of her second birthday.
“We thought we would find Morgan right away, that we would all go home together,” she said.
When they finally told the kids, Nick said they couldn’t find the words. It was Morgan’s dad who said, “Morgan’s Lost.”
“Our 3-and-half-year-old son just burst into tears and he said, ‘why did you lose my sister? You have to go and pick her up,’” Nick said.
In 1997, the family moved to Alma, needing to be where the investigation was.
While several leads have been followed in the 23 years since Morgan has gone missing, the case remains unsolved.
Nick recalled the moment Morgan was born — she took her breath away.
“That was the day that I knew I would always fight for her,” she said. “That I would do everything in my power to make her life OK.”
Through this ordeal, Nick said the one thing that became apparent was her need to fight, not just for Morgan, but for Logan and Taryn and for the other nearly 800,000 kids who are reported missing each year.
Nick started the Morgan Nick Foundation in 1996 to aid in the immediate assistance of a child abduction.
“There’s a great need to do something of value for your child when something tragic happens and for us that was our way of fighting back against the evil that had happened,” she said.
Nick is a spokesperson and advocate for missing children, the executive director of her foundation — which not only lends a hand to families going through this crisis, but also leads prevention education programs for communities, children and schools — and is still actively fighting for Morgan’s return.
“So, yeah, there are days this wrecks me and it immobilizes me but I will tell you that at the end of those days, I know that my job is to get back up and keep fighting for her because if I quit fighting, no one else is going to fight,” she said. “My job is to make sure I fight so that [law enforcement continues to] fight so that we all fight so [Morgan] has a chance to come home.”
Nick said statistics show that only 2 percent of kids like Morgan, stranger-abductions, long-term missing children, survive.
“I understand the odds,” she said. “I know the statistics that say only 2 percent of children like Morgan survive, and I get it, I do. I get what it looks like from over there where you guys are sitting, but I’m just going to tell you from over here, from where I’m standing, 2 percent of children like Morgan, survive. They’re waiting to be rescued and it’s our job to make sure that we don’t forget them.”
Nick said the foundation focuses on three aspects: prevention with education, intervention when something happens and legislation, researching and encouraging better legislation that protects children.
“Any child that is missing matters and we, we have to fight for all of them but my fight starts here with Morgan,” she said. “She is the reason that I do this."
Nick said Morgan is not an age progression, or a newspaper story or a case file that takes up an entire room at a police department.
“Morgan is a daughter, she’s a sister, she’s a granddaughter, she’s a friend,” she said. “Morgan is someone who is worth fighting for and my family stands resolute to fight for her, to give her the chance to come back home.”
One way that others can fight, Nick said, is by staying on top of what’s going on around them, monitoring their kids' cell phones, paying attention and educating themselves and actively speaking up when something doesn’t look right.
Conway resident Amy Gilstrap Dodd, formerly of Van Buren, is friends with Nick and helped bring her to speak to the group.
She said Nick wanted to approach it as a “mother speaking to other mothers,” type of talk to raise awareness about being educated and paying attention to surroundings and it ended up being a very intimate, real and raw conversation, moving many to tears.
“In a second, your world could change,” she said. “I’ve heard this story numerous times and I cried.”
Dodd said she remembers the day clearly. She said she was in her car and recalled the local radio stations announcing that a little girl had gone missing.
“It was my community,” she said. “For like three days, you didn’t go anywhere in Crawford County without going through police barricades.”
Dodd said it’s still as raw for everybody back in Alma and in surrounding communities.
She said she has kids and seeing that pain in another woman, Nick, was hard, but ultimately was thankful that the mother was able to come and share both the good and bad of what happened and what has come out of it with the group of women.