Fourteen years after 2-year-old Wesley Dale Morgan disappeared from his rural East Feliciana Parish home, the case continues to haunt relatives and others who were touched by it — law enforcement officers, investigators and locals who in 2001 searched the woods for days hoping to find the child.
Some still have not given up hope of someday finding Morgan, who would now be 16 years old. And they believe someone knows something but has kept quiet all these years.
On Saturday, Richard Sobers — one of the people who is trying to keep the case alive — handed out fliers and bumper stickers reading “Where’s Wesley” in front of the East Feliciana Parish courthouse in Clinton to curious passersby.
“My deal is, bring him home for Christmas,” said Sobers, a retired Baton Rouge police officer who lives in nearby Ethel.
When Morgan went missing in May 2001, his mother, Ruby Renee Havard Freeman, told police she had briefly left him playing with puppies in the yard to prepare lunch inside their home on La. 63 in the Bluff Creek area. The boy was gone when she went back outside.
Law enforcement agencies mounted an extensive search for Morgan, turning up empty handed after several days combing the woods by helicopter, horseback and on foot looking for clues.
Investigators have long thought that Freeman, who was 19 years old at the time, had something to do with her son’s disappearance and that it wasn’t a case of a stranger abducting the child. Among the many theories that have surfaced over the years is that Freeman sold Morgan in an illegal adoption.
But there has never been enough evidence to tie her or anyone else to the boy’s disappearance.
The FBI has been involved with the investigation since the beginning and last year released a new age-progressed photo showing what Morgan would look like at age 15. The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for anyone with information leading to finding him.
“I don’t understand why people are not looking for him,” said Sobers, who started the campaign about three years ago. He said the child’s relatives and parish officials have “shut me out” and not tried hard enough on their own to find leads, he said.
Sobers said he took a personal interest in the missing boy as a parish resident and as someone with a law enforcement background. After the initial 2001 search for Morgan, the investigation seemed to go silent, Sobers said.
That is not uncommon for a case of this nature, however, said Sgt. Kevin Garig, a detective with the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office who has worked on the missing person’s case since 2008.
“Some people will say, and Mr. Sobers is one, that the case needed to be reopened,” Garig said. “We’ve never stopped investigating the case. Some months we have more leads than others.”
The Sheriff’s Office meets regularly with the FBI to talk about the case, Garig said. Tips still come in from time to time, too.
“This case has never been closed,” he said. “It’s never been put on a shelf to sit there. We work on this case year-round.”
Talmadge Bunch, the East Feliciana Parish sheriff who’s been in office since 2000 and lost his re-election bid in October, said he thinks about Morgan often. He said he believes Freeman sold the child.
“I’d love to find that boy,” Bunch said. “I know he’s alive somewhere.”
Rhonda Covington, an East Feliciana Parish public defender who represented Freeman in an unrelated 2008 charge of attempting to sell another child — which was eventually dismissed — said Freeman and other relatives have cooperated with law enforcement.
They have not, however, worked with Sobers, who is not working in any official capacity and has stirred up rumors that upset the family, Covington said.
“What does he want them to do?” she said. “They want the child found, but they don’t spend their Saturdays looking underneath the rocks or in ditches or whatever. They don’t have the skill, the knowledge or the money to conduct their own investigations, so they allow the FBI to do what they’re doing.”
Covington said Freeman remains hopeful that her son will come home.
“We have never talked about the possibility that he’s dead,” Covington said.
But there are few clues as to what happened to Morgan. The police “had to blame somebody, so they blamed [Freeman],” Covington said.
“There was a theory that the police had come up with that maybe Ruby had sold the child, but there was never, ever a shred of evidence to that, and there was no reason for her to do that,” she said.
Sobers, however, said someone — perhaps Freeman or another relative — knows what happened and isn’t talking. The goal of his campaign is to generate leads by getting people to share information. But he says the small town politics of East Feliciana Parish are hindering his efforts.
“In public, people tend to shy away” from talking about the case, he said.
Sobers has unsuccessfully run against Bunch twice, in 2011 and 2015.
Garig stressed that Sobers is “not affiliated with our investigation.”
Bunch said he had hoped to wrap up the case and find Morgan before leaving office in July. He said his office has followed every lead and turned over all the information they’ve received to the FBI, although it has mostly been “bits and pieces.”
Bunch remains convinced that Morgan is alive, possibly in Mississippi, and that his mother knows what happened to him.
“Nothing makes me believe that baby’s dead,” he said. “... She sold that baby.”
Covington, however, said that is not true.
“What happened was a tragedy,” she said. “It was a huge tragedy, and it’s just compounded by constantly crucifying the parents.”