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Mother of pregnant St. Petersburg teenager missing for two years remains hopeful

ST. PETERSBURG — This week marks a somber anniversary for Leah Martin and her family.

Two years ago, her 17-year-old daughter, Morgan Keyanna Martin, vanished in front of their home.

It was after midnight that July 25, but Morgan wanted to share exciting news with the father of the baby growing inside her. Cellphone in hand and wearing pajamas and bedroom slippers, she stepped outside her family's home at 2808 17th Ave. S, eager to tell her baby's father that it was a girl.

In the frantic hours after her disappearance, however, Martin said the man insisted he'd never heard of her daughter and then claimed the two had met at a club.

Police say the case remains active, but they do not know what happened to Morgan and have not made any arrests.

Detectives "continue to work leads as they are developed," St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said. "I can't say whether they have any one individual they consider a suspect, but obviously, they have looked at, and continue to look at, those individuals that were involved in her life to see if any one of them might have some motive to harm her."

A $1,000 reward is being offered for information. Morgan's family hopes to add to it through the fundraising website fundly.com, which they've linked to a "Hope for Morgan Martin" Facebook page. They've raised $400.

Martin is inviting family and friends to gather at her modest Midtown home today to remember the teenager who had worked as a cashier at Checkers, was studying for her high school diploma at the Tomlinson Adult Learning Center and anticipating the baby girl she planned to name Ja'Leah. Friends and relatives plan to hand out fliers with her picture and information.

"Morgan Martin. Have you seen me?' the fliers, ask which say that she disappeared after leaving her home to speak with someone in a white sedan.

She is described as white and Hispanic — her father is Panamanian and Puerto Rican — with black hair and brown eyes. She is 5 feet 2 and, at the time of her disappearance, 175 pounds. Earlier descriptions also mentioned a scar on her chin and on the left side of her lip.

Robert Lowery, vice president of the missing children's division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the organization is "greatly concerned" about Morgan's welfare.

"The length of time this child has been gone raises the level of risk and requires a lot more resources," he said.

Her mother refuses to give up hope. It's what keeps her going. "Just the thought that one day we are going to find her, that she's just going to show up," she said.

She's in contact with another mother through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Martin said though the woman's son has been missing for 30 years, she has not given up hope for his safe return.

"We have seen amazing recoveries of children after years of them being gone," Lowery said. "What we say here at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is that we don't want to provide false hope, but when it comes to missing children, you never give up hope."

To aid searches, he said the center distributes posters at places such as Walmart. It also combs databases, follows social media and takes calls from the public. The organization also collects biometric information about missing children and uses age-progression technology to show how a child might have changed through the years. In Morgan's case, the technology will not be used until she has been missing for three years, Lowery said.

"Hopefully, we will find Morgan before then," he said.

"There was no other person like her," the missing teenager's sister, Sierra Cahill, said.

Her mother tells of the time when Morgan asked for food to donate to the homeless as part of a school project. At the time, the family was living in a motel because of financial difficulties, Martin said, but Morgan didn't recognize their deprivation. She thought others were worse off.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

fast facts

Tips wanted

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Morgan Keyanna Martin should call the St. Petersburg Police Department at (727) 893-7780. A $1,000 reward is being offered.

Mother of pregnant St. Petersburg teenager missing for two years remains hopeful 07/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014 11:12am]
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