Two years after she went missing, Christina Morris’ kidnapper has received a life sentence in prison. Friends, family are all still searching.
5 months ago
Esteban BustillosMercury Staff
Editor’s note: This story has been updated since its original publication.
As another day of searching for Christina Morris, the UTD alumna missing since 2014, comes to a close, her father, Mark Morris, slumps over the side of a truck and lets out a quiet sigh.
“I’m tired of never finding anything,” he says.
On Aug. 30, 2014, Morris was walking to a parking garage at the Shops at Legacy in Plano with Enrique Arochi, an acquaintance from high school who had been out with Morris and other friends that night. Video surveillance shows the two walking together into the garage and Arochi’s car driving out, but Morris is never seen again.
Arochi soon became the prime suspect in the disappearance of Morris. On Sept. 21, a jury in Collin County found Arochi guilty of aggravated kidnapping. On Sept. 30, Judge Mark Rusch sentenced Arochi to life in prison.
But despite the sentence, the Morris family and their supporters don’t have closure. Every weekend for two years, they gather in the parking lot of Allen High School to go out and look for Morris. And they have no plans to stop anytime soon.
When they first started searching, there were hundreds who came out to help. Now, there’s a core group of about five people, none of whom are related to the Morris family, who show up every weekend.
On the weekend after the sentencing, there were 18 in the search party. It’s more than the group has had in some time.
The searchers go out to fields and woods and look for the smallest clues, equipped with only walking sticks to clear foliage and high boots to protect from snakes and standing water.
They move slowly in lines with about six feet apart. By now, they’ve already covered multiple areas across the Metroplex two or three times, but they keep coming back, just in case.
The group has come across everything from animal bones to old equipment like chainsaws on their searches, but they haven’t found any traces of Morris. That’s what keeps Robert O’Neil looking. He acts as one of the group’s leaders and runs the searches like a drill sergeant.
“We’re just keeping on keeping on,” O’Neil said. “Until she’s found or until the family tells us to stop, we’re going to be doing every Saturday. … After the trial was done, that wasn’t the most important thing to (the family). The most important thing is not to see (Arochi) in jail, the most important thing is finding Christina.”
O’Neil, who joined the group a week after the search started, is one of the people who has been a part of the search from the beginning. With him is Stacey Blair, who has also been looking for Morris since the first days of the journey.
She said she always felt like Arochi had been the one responsible for Morris disappearing and now the justice system has validated her beliefs. Still, she’s aware that there’s work left to be done.
“We’re always looking for people to come help,” Blair said. “Just because he’s guilty and given life, for the family it’s still not over. They need the help and the support because the only way they are going to find her is with people out looking.”
Then there are newcomers like Erica Hernandez, who is joining the search for the first time. She’s a bartender at the Shops at Legacy and was working the night Morris disappeared.
Since then, she’s hired a personal trainer and, inspired by the case, is prepping to join the McKinney Police department.
“This case definitely struck close to home for me,” Hernandez said. “I think about how many other Christina’s are out there that have not made their way home.”
A large number of the supporters, made up mostly of strangers who joined the cause after hearing Morris’ story, filled the gallery throughout Arochi’s trial and cried alongside the family as the decisions came down. For two years, this case has been a large part of their lives.
Upon getting back to the school after about six hours of searching, everyone gives each other hugs before taking off. Mark Morris sees everyone go, thanking them for once again donating their Saturday to search for his daughter.
He said he was glad Arochi is going to be locked up, but his main hope for the trial was he would be told where his daughter is, which still hasn’t happened.
“I thought it would be better after (the trial),” he said. “But it didn’t make anything better. I mean, don’t get me wrong, like I said, I’m glad (Arochi’s) off the street and can’t do it to somebody else, but not having my daughter, it’s still there. I can’t go see her, I can’t visit a grave. There’s nothing.”
For Morris’ mother, Jonni McElroy, who has moved back to Oklahoma now the trial is over, the hardest thing is not being able to search for her daughter. Still, McElroy is constantly posting about her daughter and putting her face out in the community.
She said she wants to one day open a clothing store in her daughter’s honor in Tulsa she described as having “a tom boy with a girly side” aesthetic. She will donate 10 percent of the sales to missing children’s organizations.
“That’s my goal is to be Christina’s voice and also give back a little to the community,” McElroy said.
For those still in the Dallas area, Morris compared going and searching every weekend and coming up empty handed is almost like “spinning your wheels.” By this point, he said, he hoped there would be no more searching, that there would be answers.
But that doesn’t stop Mark Morris, his family or their crew of searchers from looking for the final piece of the puzzle they’ve been trying to solve for two years.
“We just have to keep on going, live our life,” he said. “Nothing is normal anymore, it’s not normal not knowing where your daughter’s at. But I still have a daughter and a son and my wife and, I mean, you still have to live your life, but I won’t ever give up on Christina. I come out here every weekend. That won’t change. That’s not going to change.”