Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

Two months after pregnant St. Petersburg teen vanishes, family presses on

ST. PETERSBURG — Leah Martin wears a purple pin with her daughter's smiling face on it everywhere she goes.

At the gas station where she works, startled strangers stop her to point at the button.

"That girl was on HLN! That girl was on CNN!"

"I know, I was there," Martin tells them. "I'm her mom."

She usually stops there.

Leah Martin doesn't like to revisit the last night she saw her 17-year-old daughter two months ago:

Rising from a brown armchair just inside the family's home at 2808 17th Ave. S, Morgan Martin told her mother and older sister she was going outside to talk to someone. Four months pregnant, she walked out the front door wearing fuzzy pink slippers, gray pajama pants and a white tank top, carrying nothing more than a cellphone.

She never came back.

That was July 25.

In the time since, Morgan's friends and family have tried everything they can think of to keep Morgan's name, and their hope of finding her, alive.

St. Petersburg police said they've progressed in the case, but declined to outline specifics. It's still a missing person investigation, though homicide detectives have been kept abreast of any developments.

With every passing day, it becomes less likely that Morgan will be found alive.

But as far as Morgan's friends and family are concerned, Morgan is still out there. They just need to find her.

First they handed out fliers. Hundreds of them.

When that wasn't enough, Morgan's sister, Sierra Cahill, 20, turned to Facebook. Nearly 2,900 users have liked the page, "Hope for Morgan Martin."

The family consulted a psychic, who envisioned the girl in a basement.

Last month, more than 50 people attended a candlelight vigil. They sang songs and said prayers. Several signed a neon poster in the family's living room.

"I just have something I need to tell her," one girl said as she put pen to paper.

"It's weird," said Leah Martin. "Everyone's taken this really personally. People I've never seen before, people who I haven't spoken to in years — they're all coming out of the woodwork. It's like Morgan was all of ours."

Morgan's story has been broadcast on national television and picked up by papers across the state and as far away as Walla Walla, Wash.

Those closest to the teen wear T-shirts that ask, "Where's Morgan?"

Her face has been reproduced on dozens of buttons. The pins are being sold to raise money to contribute to a reward offered for information in Morgan's disappearance. So far, the buttons have brought in more than $140.

"I just don't want people to forget about her," said friend Donesha Yawhite, 20, who designs and sells the buttons. "I just want everyone to remember that she's a person, and she's out there somewhere while we're all going about our lives."

Morgan's family will never forget.

They've already begun to plan her 18th birthday. It's Dec. 1. She'd be nearly nine months pregnant then.

"You're famous now, Morgan," she announces to her daughter's empty bedroom. "If you only knew. Please come home."

Marissa Lang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

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