Family: Man dead in South Fayette standoff didn’t kidnap teen
The Bridgeville relatives of Walter Morris, 46, thought he was bringing home an Oklahoma bride half his age.
But family members were awakened early Sunday by detectives who told them that Morris, a Chartiers Valley High School graduate and bounty hunter of criminal fugitives, had barricaded himself inside the Knight’s Inn in nearby South Fayette, a 15-year-old girl by his side.
As a female FBI negotiator tried to coax him out, Morris shot himself to death, they were told.
“We’re still trying to figure it all out,” his sister, Katherine Rivera, 50, said Sunday, adding family members understood Morris was involved with a 26-year-old woman.
“He wasn’t some creepy pedophile … He’d been talking to this girl for months. He didn’t kidnap her,” Rivera said.
Rivera and other relatives told the Tribune-Review that Morris struck up a relationship with the girl from Duncan, Okla., on the MeetMe! dating website. Her profile, downloaded on Sunday, listed her age as 17. The Trib does not identify alleged victims of sexual crimes.
On their Facebook pages, she called him “Boo.” He called her “sexy” but listed their relationship as “complicated.” On June 22, both announced online that they had wed.
Morris’ page is peppered with angry outbursts against men who abuse kids. There is a message from early 2014, marking the bitter end of a romance.
In 1992, a girlfriend told Bridgeville police that Morris had raped her, court documents and family members indicate. He was arrested a month later and housed in the Allegheny County Jail; authorities dropped the sex crimes charge, and he pleaded to simple assault, a misdemeanor, Rivera said.
“But he swore after that that he’d never go back to jail. Never. We think that’s why he killed himself,” she said.
Her brother had been working two jobs and sleeping at friends’ houses during the past several months before departing two weeks ago for what he said was going to be an Oklahoma wedding, she said.
“How does a 15-year-old get legally married? That’s impossible,” she added.
Reached in Duncan, about a half-hour’s drive north of the Texas line, officials told the Trib that they found no evidence of a marriage certificate issued there. Their probe began Friday, when the girl’s parents reported her missing.
“They thought that there was some type of computer relationship that had been made. Initially, they thought he was a young guy, about her own age, and that he might be on the East Coast, maybe in Pennsylvania,” said Duncan police Chief Danny Ford.
Duncan investigators began combing through her cell phone and computer records. A detective “pinged” her phone Saturday and discovered she was in Ohio.
Ford said she didn’t pick up, and the line went dead. The investigator tried a Pittsburgh-area cell phone number she frequently called. Morris picked up.
“He said that she’d been with him but that they stopped in Ohio to go to the bathroom, and she left. We didn’t believe him,” Ford said.
Authorities traced his phone Saturday afternoon to the South Hills. An FBI agent in Oklahoma forwarded the case to the Pittsburgh field office, and authorities contacted South Fayette police.
Three patrolmen went to the cell phone’s last known location and found the Jeep Morris drove in the motel parking lot.
The officers established a perimeter to corral Morris and awaited the FBI, state troopers, Allegheny County detectives and the bomb squad and patrol officers from Bridgeville, Collier, North Fayette and Carnegie.
South Fayette police Chief John Phoennik said his officers relinquished control to the FBI and Allegheny County investigators, who urged Morris to surrender peacefully.
A standoff lasting more than four hours ended with a gunshot about 9:20 p.m. “It was tragic, but it’s important to remember that the girl is safe,” Phoennik said.
Officers called Phoennik to report the dead man was Morris, who was known to the South Fayette force. He managed the pumps at the Bridgeville Exxon gas station before it was demolished in 2013.
Phoennik plans to honor his officers at a township meeting for their textbook control of “what could’ve been a very chaotic scene.”
Ford said Duncan officials are awaiting the return of the girl and her father, who left for Pittsburgh on Saturday to retrieve her.
Rivera and relatives continue to plan a private, Aug. 15 memorial service for Morris. His adult son is arriving from California.
Tony Rapp and Carl Prine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Prine can be reached at 412-320-7826 or [email protected].