A missing Indiana teen ran away from home in a ‘punishment’ shirt. What happened to Scottie Morris?
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.”
Six days later, a gruelling search has grown increasingly bleak as the Eaton Police Department say they’re running out of places to look for the 14-year-old, who is feared to be in extreme danger amid freezing temperatures in the town of 1,500.
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.
Despite saying they’re looking into the incident, police have warned against speculation spreading online and noted that Scottie’s parents are fully cooperating with the investigation.
After countless hours of searches by more than 100 volunteers who have joined local law enforcement, Indiana State Police and several other departments, the Eaton community is still hopeful Scottie can soon be found safe.
Here’s everything we know about the case:
Scottie’s whereabouts remain unknown
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, 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 ran away from home reportedly after a conflict with his parents. On Friday, 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.”
On Wednesday, 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,” Mr Turner told 21Alive. “But, the shirt, it was quite unorthodox, kind of disturbing and we’re looking into that.”
Mr 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 Tuesday 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.
Police debunk rumours search has been called off
Search crews and residents have combed areas in Eaton where Scottie could be at least four times without any success so far.
Eaton Police Chief Jay Turner said rescue teams had used every resource available, including helicopters and boats, and are now 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 Tuesday that the search had been scaled back or paused, Mr Turner said that was not the case.
Eaton PD along 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 that some on-foot searches have been halted as K-9 teams take over.
“The search for Scottie Morris HAS NOT BEEN CALLED OFF!” the department said in a statement on Wednesday. “Officers are following leads and investigating diligently.”
Mr Turner said on Saturday it was “all hands on deck” and residents in the area came and joined the search efforts.
“What they did today was very tremendous,” Mr Turner told WTHR. “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.”
Police said finding him soon is 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 Monday, 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.”
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.”
A silver alert states that the teen is “5 foot 4 inch tall, 150 pounds,” has “brown hair with blue eyes.”