BELDING — After a weekend unlike any the city of Belding has experienced before, as hundreds of volunteers and members of various law enforcement agencies sacrificed hours of time and effort to search the city for missing 10-year-old Devon Morrison, the quest to find him continues.
Entering day three since he was first reported missing Saturday, Belding Police Chief Dale Nelson said his department’s efforts, along with those of the Michigan State Police, Ionia County Sheriff’s Office and FBI, will become more aggressive as more than 45 hours have passed since he was last spotted Saturday afternoon near the Flat River.
“We’re once again going to go back into he river, we’re going to expand our search,” Nelson said. “We’re going to use some of the same technology we used yesterday with the sonar and side scanning. We’re going to put divers into the water. We’re going to be more aggressive.”
Nelson said divers from Kent County and the Ionia County Search and Rescue Team will work along the Flat River just east of the Ashfield Street Bridge and continue west to the Belding dam, where both the backside of the dam and the front side of the dam will be searched.
“We’re doing that, first of all, to recheck what we did yesterday and to ascertain for sure that Devon is not in the water,” he said.
According to Nelson, the search will begin to move outside of the river if they can conclude that Morrison is not in the river.
Volunteer searches on hold
Nelson has requested that members of the community do not attempt to search for Devon on their own as police agencies continue their search today.
“I know yesterday, we had a large group in the morning, we had an even larger group in the afternoon and all of that help was very important to us at that time,” he said. “Asking them to stand down today is difficult for me (to do). What we want to do now is use some of our law enforcement technical skills to go back over some of those areas that we checked yesterday.”
Nelson said an officer will now be taking names, phone numbers and addresses of those wanting to volunteer so the department can contact everyone in the event that a volunteer civilian search group is reactivated.
In the meantime, Nelson is asking residents and supporters to still keep an eye open on Devon’s disappearance.
“Don’t go into the field to look, but if you’re driving around town, keep an eye out for Devon,” he said. “If you see him, contact the police department. Be vigilant about what goes around your house. Check your backyards and check your garages. These are all places (he could go) to get away out of the weather.”
Nelson said that the FBI’s involvement in the investigation is to better assist the department specific to the issue of a missing child.
“When it comes to missing children, (the FBI) like to get themselves involved in the initial stages of the investigation,” he said. “They have expertise in locating missing children. It’s very much a boost to not only my department, but all small agencies that don’t have that expertise.”
Nelson said while they are not pursuing the disappearance in any criminal aspect, they are still approaching the disappearance as a suspicious event.
“I’m going to reserve saying ‘suspicious,’ Nelson said. “At this point we still have a missing 10-year-old. We’ve got some tips, but we really have not received anything significant, but we’re still investigating it as a suspicious event and we’re going to continue to move forward. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned.”
Nelson said family members have been questioned but are not considered suspects in the investigation at this time.
“We have talked to the family members — we have talked to them extensively,” he said. “That was for looking for additional information about Devon, some of his habits, what he might do and what he might not do.”
Evening search of Morrison’s home
Nelson said a late-night search of Morrison’s home on Harrison Street, in which the residence was roped off with yellow caution tape, was to collect evidence.
“As of last night we did go to the residence and we did a very extensive search,” he said. “We did gather some materials that would help in locating Devon.”
Nelson said because the department’s initial investigation did not produce any major clues or leads, they returned to Morrison’s home in search for a spark.
“It’s one of those investigative processes where, once we don’t have any new information, we like to go back to the residence and look for the items that might give us some direction,” he said. “In particular, at the residence, we were looking for some items so our dogs that are working the field today would have a good, fresh unadulterated scent trail for Devon.”
Nelson added that no one at the home, or anyone at this point, has been taken into police custody.
“There was no one taken into custody,” he said. “Police tape was put up because we wanted to put a search dog there and we did not want any further disturbance of the area around the exterior of the residence. All of the things that were taken are going to be used for an expanded investigation to help us establish some clues.”
Evidence: Morrison’s shoes
According to Nelson, a number of items were collected as evidence during Sunday’s searches, but only one item has officially been connected to Devon after originally being unconfirmed— his shoes — which were found in the river.
“The shoes, once again, were found in the river, they (have been) identified as being Devon’s,” he said. “From that we’re moving forward with our investigation.”
Morrison said door-to-door searches produced a number of tips, though nothing concrete, and officials will be revisiting several community members to clarify or reaffirm their stories.
“The door-to-door search yesterday, there are some of those residents that we are going to go back to … to talk to again to make sure that the information that they did give us is the same information today,” he said.
No Amber Alert
Nelson said no Amber Alert has been issued at this time because Morrison’s case did not meet the criteria.
According to Nelson, most Amber Alerts are issued within three hours of a person’s disappearance or for individuals who are in danger to themselves or in the presence of someone who is considered dangerous.
Nelson said he doesn’t believe any of the criteria apply to Morrison.
“The media has been our version of the Amber Alert for this particular event,” he said. “Right after the newscast Saturday night, downtown Belding looked like it does at 4 O’Clock in the afternoon. We had people all over town looking for Devon.”
In closing his press conference Monday morning, Nelson said he will continue to be optimistic in the search for Morrison, who he knew personally.
Nelson recalled a story in which he has had to tell Morrison not to enter the river in the past.
“Devon was very much an avid fishermen,” he said. “I myself had to check on Devon (in the past) because we received a report that he was in the river during a time when we had high waters. I did go down and find him getting ready to go into the water … we were able to get him to go back home.”
Nelson is hopeful that a similar outcome, Morrison returning home, will happen once again.
“It makes the quest to find him even more intense,” he said. “It’s very frustrating when we just haven’t gotten a lot of information to help us find him.”
Nelson asks anyone who discovers any information related to Morrison’s disappearance to call 911, the Belding Police Department at (616) 794-1900 ext. 226, Ionia County Central Dispatch at (616) 522-0911 or silent observer at (616) 527-0107.