The Morgan Nick Story
by Janie Jones
An old superstition says if you make a wish when you see the first lightning bug of the year, the wish will come true. But for Colleen Nick, lightning bugs remind her of the night her six-year-old daughter, Morgan, went missing.
On June 9, 1995, Colleen and Morgan traveled roughly 30 minutes from their home in Ozark to Alma, because they knew a family who had children playing in a Little League game at Alma’s ballpark. It sounded like a nice outing for mother and daughter, but after a while, watching baseball games can get boring for an active little girl. Morgan asked her mom for permission to catch fireflies with two of her friends, and Colleen consented after a slight hesitation. From where she sat in the bleachers, she could see the three kids in a well-lighted area no more than 75 yards away. It was a sandpile atop a small hill where it looked as if preparations had been made for some sort of construction. The children noticed a man leaning against a red truck that had a white camper shell on it, but he was outside Colleen’s line of vision.
As the ball game ended around 10:45 p.m., Colleen was momentarily distracted by the cheers from players and spectators. She then turned her attention back to Morgan but saw only the other two children, and the first wave of panic washed over her. She asked them where her daughter was, and they said the last time they saw her, she was pouring sand out of her shoes by Colleen’s car. Not finding her there, they went back up the sandy knoll, but Morgan was gone, and so was the man with the truck.
After searching in vain, someone called the Alma Police Department, and officers arrived within a few minutes. In a matter of hours, the FBI, Arkansas State Police and United States Marshals joined the search.
Morgan’s playmates told investigators about the man with the red truck and described him as being white, approximately six feet tall and 180 pounds. He had black or salt-and-pepper hair, facial stubble, and a mustache. Guesses about his age ranged from 23 to 38 years old. A police artist drew a sketch of the man that was sent to news outlets and law enforcement officials.
In the days, weeks and months after the abduction, authorities held press conferences with updates on the case, and they set up a tip line for people to call, day or night. Morgan’s picture was everywhere; on fliers, billboards, newspapers and TV. But where was she?
It has now been over two decades since Colleen Nick saw her precious blonde, blue-eyed daughter, but with a mother’s devotion and resolve, she has kept Morgan’s case in the public eye. At least 80 internet websites tell Morgan’s story, and many of them feature her likeness, both in photos of her as she looked in 1995 and age-progressed drawings of her as she would look now.
APD Lieutenant Brett Hartley says, “The case is still a very active case. We have followed leads all over the country numerous times through the years.”
Because the investigation is still ongoing, Hartley couldn’t discuss anything of an evidentiary nature.
Faulkner County Sheriff’s investigator Kent Hill, however, did confirm a name which has come up recently regarding Morgan’s abduction – Edward Keith Renegar. As reported in the March issue of AY, Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals announced in October 2018 that Renegar is the primary suspect in the 1990 murder of Pamela Felkins. Hill declined to comment further, other than to say Renegar had no record of child molestation. Renegar, who died in 2002, might be considered in the Nick case for three reasons. 1.) During Sheriff Ryals’s press conference, he said among the vehicles Renegar had owned was a 1984 red Mazda truck with a white camper shell. 2.) After serving a 10-month sentence for kidnapping, Renegar was released from prison in May 1995, the month before Morgan disappeared. 3.) He went to the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, Okla., so he could have been in the vicinity of Alma when the abduction took place.
But Hartley said, “One thing we run into is a lot of misinformation, and that makes it tough.” He used the truck as an example. Though they received information it was a red pickup with a white camper shell, Hartley said he wasn’t “tied to” that witness report.
“You could go out and take 20 people,” he said, “and let them see the same thing, and you’re going to get 20 different descriptions of what they just saw.”
Colleen Nick, who still has trouble sleeping, is also the mother of a son and another daughter.
“I’m not sure there are words for how devastating it has been for our family,” she says. “Everybody has worked really hard to find the good in the world, and if we don’t fight back, and we don’t survive, then the person who took Morgan wins, and we’re absolutely determined not to let that happen.”
In the early stages of her greatest grief, Colleen could never have imagined the impact her daughter’s kidnapping would have on her own life trajectory. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) asked her to speak to other families who had missing children and were going through the same trauma Colleen endured.
The NCMEC helped digitize the many files of data about the case and put them in the national system so that other law enforcement agencies could access the information.
“We just got this massive education about what the problem of missing children was like,” Colleen says, and over time, she became an advocate for them and their loved ones.
After receiving more and more invitations to speak at schools and churches about the issue, she formed the Morgan Nick Foundation, which is headquartered in Alma.
“It just evolved,” she says. “I never wanted to run a nonprofit or take up the fight. I just wanted to find Morgan. Our choice is to do everything we can to bring good out of this tragedy.”
The hope that they will find Morgan ultimately is a big part of how Colleen has kept going.
“We still don’t know where she is or what happened to her, and we absolutely intend to know that. Our message to Morgan if she ever hears or sees or reads anything [about her own case] is that we are coming for you, and we are coming with an army of people who have been fighting for you.”
The Morgan Nick Foundation offers support to families of the missing and acts as a liaison with police and the media. Members strive to educate teachers, students, and communities about safety skills and preventive measures they can take to ward-off possible kidnappers. The Foundation encourages legislation that protects the rights of children and enhances law enforcement’s ability to find the missing and bring them home.