Not Giving Up Hope
2 years ago
Cara SantucciMercury Staff
Andrew GallegosPhoto Editor
It was late on a Tuesday night. Sarah Estes picked up the ringing phone and heard her mother’s panicked voice on the other end of the line. She said no one had heard from Sarah’s younger sister, Christina Morris, in days.
Unable to sit around and wait for updates, Sarah and her husband got in their car and began to search for Morris. They drove to the Shops at Legacy in Plano where she was last seen. The couple went all the way to Fort Worth, all the while scanning highways for accidents, hoping to see Morris’ Toyota Celica.
The next morning, the Morrises were told that Christina’s car was still in the parking garage at the Shops at Legacy.
“That was really scary once we figured out she hadn’t even made it to her car,” Sarah said. “That whole next week (or) month—I don’t even know—was just a complete blur. It seemed like just the longest day ever.”
These first frantic days would set in motion the beginning of the family’s ongoing fight to find Morris and bring her home.
On Aug. 30, 2014, Morris drove herself to the Shops at Legacy and met up with some friends from high school at Scruffy Duffies, a local bar. Among the group was Enrique Arochi, an acquaintance of hers who had aslo gone to Allen High School.
When she was ready to go home, she walked to the parking garage. According to police reports, Arochi went with her, saying he was also planning to head out.
That was the last time anyone saw Morris.
Three days later, when her boss noticed she had missed work, Morris was reported missing. Mark, her father, reached out to everyone who was with Morris the night she went missing, but nobody had a clue about what might have happened.
“(Christina) parked in a well-lit area of the parking garage… She didn’t walk alone. She let people know she was leaving and told a friend she’d call when she got home… and nobody followed up,” Anna Morris, her mother, said. “Christina did all the right things.”
Jonni McElroy, Morris’ birth mother, stayed up for 24 hours when she first heard of her daughter’s disappearance. She left her home in Tulsa, Okla. and drove down to Texas to begin looking for her daughter.
She thought the search would be quick.
“I was sure we were going to find her within three days or 24 hours. I was sure,” she said. “And then a week goes by and the exhaustion hits in because you don’t sleep… Your mind is going a hundred miles an hour.”
Three and a half months after Morris was reported missing, Plano police arrested Arochi for aggravated kidnapping after finding Morris’s DNA in the trunk of his car. Arochi is pleading not guilty.
The Morrises have raised a $30,000 reward for her whereabouts. They are committed to finding their missing loved one, even though an arrest has been made.
“If there was solid evidence that she were not alive, he would be charged with more than aggravated kidnapping,” Anna said. “If you can’t prove she’s not alive, then as far as I’m concerned she is still alive.”
Meet the Morris Family
The Morrises are a blend of three different families. Anna and Mark Morris got married about 21 years ago. Each of them brought a child to the mix. Morris was Mark’s daughter from a previous marriage, while Sarah was Anna’s.
When they first met, new siblings Sarah and Christina didn’t like the idea of sharing their parents. Sarah, now a 28-year-old forensic scientist in Dallas, became much closer with Morris after their half brother Jake was born.
“Jake had both of us wrapped around his finger really quickly,” Sarah said.
Even though Morris had a new family, she still stayed close to her birth mother, Jonni. McElroy said she and Anna did their best to raise Morris together.
“When Christina was three, (Anna and I) sat down. I said, ‘All I care about is you being a great mom to my daughter,’” McElroy said. “(She and I) have taken Christina to her first kindergarten, her first everything we have done together. I’ve held one hand, she held the other.”
McElroy spent as much time with her daughter as possible, even though they were sometimes apart.
“Every week, no matter what, (Christina and I) had lunch together. We had a date,” she said. “Even when I moved to Tulsa, I flew down here when she had her mouth surgery. Anything, I was here at the drop of a hat.”
After graduating from high school, Morris went to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Soon, however, she became very homesick.
“She thought she wanted to be far away,” Sarah said, “But she drove that eight hour drive almost every weekend to come home.”
She later transferred to UTD to major in marketing. Jake remembers Morris’s excitement after finding her niche in the School of Management. She would call home, eager to share what she learned that day with her family.
“She genuinely loved going to school, and I don’t think she’d liked that before,” he said.
After she graduated in 2013, she took a father-daughter trip with Mark to celebrate.
“She wanted to see where I grew up so we went to Chicago together,” Mark said. “It was just her and I and… we had a good trip.”
The trip was one of the last times Mark would get to spend quality time with his daughter.
The whole family agreed that if anyone could survive something like this, it would be Morris.
“She is the most stubborn, strong-willed person I’ve ever run across in my life,” Anna said. “In this sort of circumstance, that could serve her very well. That’s what I’m counting on.”
When his sister first went missing, Jake remembers everything being chaotic until the family established a command center at Legacy Church in Plano. The church was the family’s home base where members organized their efforts to find Morris.
“You lose so much sleep… It’s constantly running through your mind so you lose focus on things you normally pay attention to. Even just meals or the sunset or sunrise,” Jake said. “You just don’t notice anymore.”
Everyone involved in the search has had to make sacrifices. McElroy has left her current husband and her two steps-sons in Oklahoma for extended periods of time in order to look for her daughter. It’s almost become an occupation for her.
“It is about Christina,” she said. “That’s my job as a mother. That’s who I am, and I made the decision that if (my husband) can’t realize that she comes first right now and understand my feelings and emotions right now, then so be it.”
Jake said he feels as though he is doing all he can for his sister, but is frustrated that what he can do hasn’t been enough. He said Morris is always in his thoughts.
“I send her a Snapchat everyday,” Jake said. “(I) hope I wake up and that red arrow (has been) read, and I got one back.”
When things get too overwhelming, the family turns to each other for support and strength.
“I don’t see a family that’s closer than ours,” Jake said. “That was (true) before this happened, too. After this, we’ve come together more than we could have imagined.”
The Morrises all have dark days from time to time, but they have never thought of giving up the search. Instead, Anna said they use their support system to keep pushing each other forward.
“(Giving up) is not an option,” Anna said. “That would be just giving up on her and you just can’t. I don’t know that any of us will until we do find her. Regardless of how we find her.”
The Road Ahead
Sarah and Jake both expressed how difficult it was to return to their old routines. For Sarah, her work in forensic science frequently felt too close and too personal.
“All of the horrible scenarios that I encounter would play in my head with Christina’s face,” Sarah said.
She said it helps to know that her job helps victims like Morris. All the same, there are days Sarah goes to her boss and says she just needs to go home.
In Jakes case, he missed a lot of school the first few weeks after Morris went missing. Going back to school, Jake said he felt a lot of guilt at first.
“When I was sitting in a classroom… (I) felt like (I was) letting her down when (I wasn’t) actively doing something to help bring her back,” Jake said.
Sarah said going back to her normal life has been one of most difficult parts of the whole incident. It was difficult for her to get on with her life without her sister.
“I remember it being really hard right after she went missing to see people go on with their lives, because for us everything stopped completely,” Sarah said. “I go to sleep every night praying that I’ll wake up tomorrow and it’s all been a bad dream.”
Because of what happened to Morris, Jake has changed some of his behaviors when he’s out with his friends. He uses what he learned from this whole experience to help other people.
“Every decision we (make) now… always has Christina in the back of our minds,” Jake said. “Last night, I was out until 1 (a.m.) with some friends. I have to walk (them) to their car (now). It just has to be done.”
Morris’s disappearance has shifted Anna’s perspective on the minor frustrations she experiences throughout the day.
“I can have what two years ago would have been the worst day ever… (and now I’d) just give anything for that to be (my) worst day ever again,” Anna said.
Even though the family has had to deal with the thought of Morris passing away, they still hope to see her one day.
“I hate the idea of closure, to be honest, because I want her home more than anything in the world,” Sarah said. “She deserves better than wherever she is. She deserves to be celebrated always.”
Additional reporting by Nidhi Gotgi and Esteban Bustillos