Missing teenager Scottie Morris has been found safe in Indiana after vanishing ten days ago from his family home in Indiana wearing a white t-shirt with disparaging writing scrawled on it that branded him “a liar.”
The 14-year-old was discovered by a police officer at about 11pm on Friday night wandering the streets of the town of Eaton, according to Fox59.
The child was taken to a local hospital to be evaluated before being placed in a “safe environment” by Delaware County Child Protective Services.
Police said that interviews are being carried out regarding the disappearance and that his family is cooperating with the investigation.
Scottie vanished around 8.30pm on 16 March, prompting Eaton Police to ask residents to check their home surveillance footage.
After he had been missing for a week, residents held a candlelight vigil.
One organizer, Teresa Wilkerson, told Fox59 that the teen’s family wanted to “extend their greatest appreciation for Eaton Police Department, the fire departments, for all of the communities around the world that have been praying for this”.
“Scottie, I believe is the catalyst for an amazing movement of the world coming together and praying specifically one child at a time home,” Ms Wilkerson said.
Police and volunteers have been searching the town for the past week including woodland and vacant homes. Drones, boats, and K9 dog units were used in the search efforts.
“We want to thank all of the agencies, departments, & volunteers that helped!” the Eaton Police Department said on Facebook when announcing that the teenager had been found.
When Scottie vanished from his family home in Indiana on the night of 16 March, he was wearing a white t-shirt with disparaging writing scrawled on it that branded him “a liar”.
Authorities believe Scottie ran away from home that night after an argument with his parents, and that the shirt he was wearing was part of a “disturbing” punishment pattern.
Eaton police shared a photo of Scottie on their Facebook page earlier this month to assist with the search for him.
In the disturbing picture, the boy appeared distraught and on the verge of tears. His head was shaved and he was also wearing a white t-shirt with crying emoji faces drawn on it and writing that described him as “a liar” who had “hurt [his brother]”.
Online users reacted with uproar and blurred the disparaging writing on Scottie’s shirt when helping spread the word. But they also questioned why that picture was made public and the context behind it.
Police later explained in a post that it was the only photo provided to them in the immediate aftermath of Scottie’s disappearance.
“We are very sorry the post seemed as if we were trying to shame him in [any way], as that would NEVER be our intent,” the statement read. “Placing that photo on social media was in no way an attempt to embarrass or humiliate him.”
Police Chief Jay Turner confirmed that the t-shirt and subsequent picture taken by Scottie’s parents were part of a “disturbing” and “unorthodox” punishment.
“I will say, the shaved head was his idea, they went to Great Clips and it’s what he told them he wanted,” Mr Turner told 21Alive. “But, the shirt, it was quite unorthodox, kind of disturbing and we’re looking into that.”
During the search efforts, Scottie’s mother Felicia Morris made a public plea for her son to return home.
“Scott, I love you and I want you to come home,” Ms Morris told WTHR as she broke down in tears. “I know you are mad and confused and I’m afraid you’re scared with all of this. Everyone is looking out for you, we’re not trying to scare you. You’re not in trouble.”
She added: “If you’re in a house and they come to you and you don’t want to go out because it’s the cops, reach out. Me and dad will come get you. I love you and I just want you to come home. I need to know that you’re safe.”