Scottie Morris: What happened to Indiana teen found after running away from home in ‘punishment’ shirt
When Scottie Morris vanished from his family home in Indiana on the night of 16 March, he was wearing a white t-shirt with disparaging writing scrawled on it that branded him “a liar”.
The 14-year-old was found by a police officer wandering the streets of the town of Eaton, a town of about 1,500, after being missing for over a week, police announced at about 11pm on 24 March, according to Fox59.
The child was taken to a local hospital to be evaluated before being placed in a “safe environment” by Delaware County Child Protective Services.
Police said that interviews are being carried out regarding the disappearance and that his family is cooperating with the investigation.
Authorities believe Scottie ran away from home that night after an argument with his parents, and that the shirt he was wearing was part of a “disturbing” punishment pattern.
After he had been missing for a week, residents held a candlelight vigil.
One organizer, Teresa Wilkerson, told Fox59 that the teen’s family wanted to “extend their greatest appreciation for Eaton Police Department, the fire departments, for all of the communities around the world that have been praying for this”.
“Scottie, I believe is the catalyst for an amazing movement of the world coming together and praying specifically one child at a time home,” Ms Wilkerson said.
Police and volunteers have been searching the town over the past week, going through woods and vacant homes. Drones, boats, and K9 units were also used in the search efforts.
“We want to thank all of the agencies, departments, & volunteers that helped!” the Eaton Police Department said on Facebook when announcing that the teenager had been found.
Here’s everything we know about the case:
Before he was found on the night of 24 March, Scottie was last seen on 16 March when he is believed to have run away from his home.
Local police have said the minor was only wearing the white t-shirt with demeaning writing, red and black shorts and black sneakers despite freezing temperatures. He was also wearing glasses.
According to Eaton PD, Scottie was caught in a neighbour’s doorbell camera around 8.30pm on the day he vanished. The footage has not been released to the public.
When Scottie was last spotted before he was located, he was walking east on Indiana Avenue, close to Mar Fran Court in Eaton, according to WTHR.
His parents contacted law enforcement at 8.45pm.
The Eaton Police Department began its search on the night of 16 March and issued a missing person alert the following morning.
Eaton PD confirms ‘disturbing’ punishment
Scottie reportedly ran away from home after a conflict with his parents. Eaton police shared a bizarre picture of Scottie on their Facebook page to help the community report potential sightings.
In the picture, Scottie looked distraught and on the verge of tears. His head was shaved and he was also wearing a white t-shirt with crying emoji faces drawn on it and writing that described him as “a liar” who had “hurt [his brother]”.
Online users reacted with uproar and blurred the disparaging writing on Scottie’s shirt when helping spread the word. But they also questioned why that picture was made public and the context behind it.
Police later explained in a post that it was the only photo provided to them in the immediate aftermath of Scottie’s disappearance.
“We are very sorry the post seemed as if we were trying to shame him in [any way], as that would NEVER be our intent,” the statement read.
“Placing that photo on social media was in no way an attempt to embarrass or humiliate him … our only concern is that we find Scottie safely and then go from there with our investigation.”
During the search efforts, Eaton Police Chief Jay Turner confirmed that the t-shirt and subsequent picture taken by Scottie’s parents were part of a “disturbing” and “unorthodox” punishment.
“I will say, the shaved head was his idea, they went to Great Clips and it’s what he told them he wanted,” Chief Turner told 21Alive. “But, the shirt, it was quite unorthodox, kind of disturbing and we’re looking into that.”
Chief Turner said Scottie’s parents are fully cooperating with the investigation and warned against speculation spreading on social media.
The chief said that they’ve been given polygraph tests but did not disclose the reason why or the results, according to the Star Press.
‘No time for speculation’
Eaton resident Chynia Cain told The US Sun on 21 March that conspiracies about the punishment could become a distraction from the main goal: finding Scottie.
“I don’t why he was wearing [the t-shirt] but my statement on it is, whether or not it was a form of parenting, as a parent […] there’s always a time that you may make a mistake,” Ms Cain told the outlet. “There’s always a time you may discipline in a way that you never expected you would ever have to do.”
She added: “There’s a lot of pain in their homes right now.”
Ms Cain, who has been organising candlelight vigils for Scottie at her church, said Scottie’s mom told her he was upset before he left.
“All I do know is [Scottie’s] mother said that he was very upset and he was stomping,” Ms Cain told the Sun.
“But it’s one of those things where we all know, as humans, how strong our feelings can be sometimes,” she added.
Police debunk rumours search was called off
Search crews and residents have combed areas in Eaton where Scottie could be at least four times before Scottie was found.
Chief Turner said before the teen was located that rescue teams had used every resource available, including helicopters and boats, and that they were running out of reasonable places to look for Scottie, The Star Press reported.
The department has also used heat imagining and bloodhounds.
After reports on 21 March that the search had been scaled back or paused, Chief Turner said that was not the case.
Eaton PD worked with the Indiana State Police, Delaware County Sheriff’s Department, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on the case. The department said before he was found that some on-foot searches had been halted as K-9 teams took over.
“The search for Scottie Morris HAS NOT BEEN CALLED OFF!” the department said in a statement on 22 March. “Officers are following leads and investigating diligently.”
Chief Turner said on 18 March it was “all hands on deck” and residents in the area came and joined the search efforts.
“What they did today was very tremendous,” he told WTHR at the time. “They went out into a thick wood line area next to a river, both sides of the river, and walked somewhat of a line completely for two and a half miles.”
“We are a small department,” the chief said. “We have four regular officers and 18 reserves. Our reserves and our regulars volunteered their time to come in and do these searches. I’m very pleased how we came together — fire department, EMS, police department.”
Ahead of Scottie being found, Police said finding him soon was vital as temperatures plummet.
“I want this young man to know we are not here to make sure he’s in trouble. We want to help him and make sure he’s safe,” Mr Turner said.
“We’ve taken this seriously from the very beginning, and we’re going to continue to investigate until we find him,” he added.
‘I love you, you are not in trouble’
On 20 March, Scottie’s mother Felicia Morris made a public plea for her son to return home.
“Scott, I love you and I want you to come home,” Ms Morris told WTHR as she broke down in tears. “I know you are mad and confused and I’m afraid you’re scared with all of this. Everyone is looking out for you, we’re not trying to scare you. You’re not in trouble.”
Mother of missing 14-year-old Scottie Morris pleads for his return
She added: “If you’re in a house and they come to you and you don’t want to go out because it’s the cops, reach out. Me and dad will come get you. I love you and I just want you to come home. I need to know that you’re safe.”