‘A great kid … with a very big heart’: Belding boy found dead in Flat River


By Cory Smith • Last Updated 4:08 pm on Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A sign reading “R.I.P. Devon” is strapped to the railing of the Ashfield Street bridge in Belding Monday evening where a candlelight vigil was held in memory of 10-year-old Devon Morrison. — Daily News/Cory Smith

BELDING — The three-day, community-wide search for a missing 10-year-old Belding boy came to a tragic end Monday afternoon after his body was discovered by divers in the Flat River near one of his favorite fishing spots.

Devon Morrison disappeared after he left his home alone to go fishing Saturday. His disappearance spawned a search that involved hundreds of volunteers, supporters and members of law enforcement, who searched night and day for the missing boy.

Morrison’s body was found at 12:53 p.m. Monday in the Flat River near the Ashfield Street bridge.

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Belding Police Chief Dale Nelson, who personally knew Devon, released an emotional statement confirming that Morrison’s body had been found.

“It’s an unfortunate end to what has been a three-day affair for everyone,” Nelson said. “I can only say, on behalf of the family, that they very much deeply appreciate everything that everyone has done.”

According to Nelson, the area where Devon was found had been searched several times by law enforcement and volunteers; however, after the investigation showed no signs that Morrison had left the river, divers from the Ionia County and Kent County search and rescue teams were sent back Monday to search the river once again.

“I believe that in our initial search, we did everything we could do at the time with the conditions and available personnel,” Nelson said. “We wanted to definitely say, 100 percent, that Devon was not in the river. That was our mission and our mission was unfortunately fulfilled. He was in the river and we did locate him.”

Nelson said his department is still investigating the disappearance and death. No suspects have been named in connection to the death. Nelson said he is unable to comment at this time as to whether any foul play was involved.

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“I’m going to say he was in the water and we’re going to do the rest of our investigation to close that,” Nelson said. “We’re tying up the loose ends. We did recover some other property of Devon’s at the scene in the water. (We) are taking care of the evidence.”

Learning the sad news was devastating to Amy Altman, a neighbor of Morrison, as the boy was close friends with her children and a frequent visitor of her household. Altman was at the Ashfield Street bridge Monday afternoon, which had been roped off with caution tape as divers retreated from the river, when she assumed the worst, breaking down into tears.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “He came over all the time. He was a great kid and he had a very big heart.”

Altman said she had last seen Morrison on Tuesday.

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“I was bringing my kids to school and I saw him over by Demorest Field,” she said. “I pulled over and I asked, ‘Devon, what are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I want to walk to school because my brother does,’” she said.

Altman said she told Morrison, a year older than her own son, to get in her car as she took him and her children to school at Woodview Elementary School.

Altman’s husband, Mark, said he cared for Devon “like a son.”

“He spent about five years of summers at our house, non-stop, everyday,” he said. “He was basically like another one of our kids. We looked out for him.”

Mark Altman said the news was also difficult to hear because he had personally searched the area where Morrison was found.

“I looked nonstop under there Saturday night when we found out he was missing at 7:30 p.m.,” he said. “That was the first place I looked.”

Nelson said Devon’s family is requesting privacy at this time.

“They ask at this time, until we get some of the details taken care of with Devon, that they be allowed some privacy and I believe that everyone will respect that request,” he said.

Nelson said he is grateful for the immediate actions of the Belding community and surrounding area in searching for Morrison over the past several days.

“On behalf of law enforcement we deeply appreciate the people of Belding, the news media of West Michigan, everybody that has assisted us in this investigation have been very helpful and we will be forever grateful for all of your assistance,” he said. “Belding in itself, as you have seen in the last three days, we’re all kind of family here. Everybody kind of watches out for everybody else.”

Though Nelson said Morrison fishing on his own was not an uncommon event, he recommended other children go with a parent or friend when venturing away from home.

“It’s important for moms and dads to know where their kids are going to be,” he said. “If Devon’s mom and boyfriend had known where he was at, they could have looked out their back door and saw him down by the river.”

Nelson said he wants people to remember Morrison for the spirited young boy that he knew him as.

“We need to remember Devon, for Devon,” he said. “Whatever joy he brought to whomever he contacted was just a wonderful thing. I feel honored to be able to have spent some time with him and interact with him because he was a great kid, just a great kid … It will be difficult without Devon, but we will move on.”

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