“Oh no,” was the first thought that came into the mind of former classmate and friend Erin Guy, a recent graduate of John Marshall High School. “I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to believe it, and people start those kinds of rumors all of the time. But then I saw the news about it, and that’s when I just started remembering him.
“He was a cool kid, and at first he was missing, and people were trying to find him, and that stuff seems to happen a lot around here, so I still had hope that my friend would be found. I expected him to end up back in Kentucky, to be honest,” she explained. “But then I learned that he did die, and I was dumbfounded. It hit me; I had lost a friend; and still, to this day, no one seems to know what really happened.”
Kyle Morgan was a kid from Kentucky who moved to his father’s home in Marshall County about a year before he was discovered dead under the Fort Henry Bridge in downtown Wheeling.
He was 15 years old; he told his friends he was catching a bus back to Kentucky, and he was driven to Wheeling by a 68-year-old registered nurse on June 15, the evening before his remains were discovered in an under-bridge area situated just beyond a parking area for customers of Uncle Pete’s Restaurant.
The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and was ruled a homicide by the state coroner. The victim was resting under a blanket, his arms under his head, in an area above the Heritage Trail and directly under the I-70 span. Law enforcement officials found no pipe, bat, or brick, and Morgan was not in possession of any form of identification or money, and the backpack he reportedly brought with him to Wheeling was not found either.
That was one year ago; there are two police departments investigating the case, and the mystery remains unsolved.
Truth be told, law enforcement officials do not know where Morgan may have suffered the fatal injury or where he passed away.
“I haven’t seen the (crime scene) photos because I don’t know if I can handle that, but Dale (Kyle’s father) has seen them, and he told me that I shouldn’t look at them,” said Angela Hawkins, Kyle’s mother, who is a lifelong resident of Kentucky. “He did tell me that Kyle was found lying on his stomach with his arm under his head as if he was asleep. He was even covered by an old blanket that had already been down there.
“Someone made it look like he was asleep, and a homeless man found him the next day,” she said. “I have become very frustrated with not knowing what happened to my son. I just want the person who did this to come forward because this is just not right. We’re talking about a 15-year-old baby. He was a boy who was planning to join the United States Navy to pay for college. He had goals, and he had dreams. He wanted to become a designer of video games.
“He had the rest of his life in front of him,” she said angrily. “And I believe someone took that life away from him. And for what?”
One Wheeling Mother
“Kyle was quiet at first because he was the new kid, but after a little while he began to interact in the two classes we had together,” Guy recalled. “But there were several of us girls who always thought that he was so adorable because he was pretty small for a freshman boy.
“He would talk with everyone, but we usually had to start the conversations with him,” she recalled. “His accent wasn’t necessarily southern, but it definitely wasn’t a West Virginia accent for around here. He didn’t have a big twang, but he had a little bit of a twang.”
Kim Castellucci is a mother of three, including a couple of teenage boys.
She grew up across the street from a girl who was abducted, raped, and released, and that former friend was quickly moved away to a place where the shadows of such horror were no longer overbearing. That’s how Castellucci, whose family moved away from Wheeling but returned a couple of years ago, learned at an early age that evil could hurt even innocent children.
That’s why Kyle’s case caught her attention and why it’s maintained her concern during the year since he passed away. Castellucci, in fact, wonders if we care enough.
“Of course, I feel a lot of empathy for the mother because I know sometimes the decisions teenagers make are not the best ones, and I feel like this could have happened to a lot of parents that I know, and that it could have happened to my family,” she said. “I know if my family was involved, I would want others in this community to show their support and their concern, and I haven’t really seen much of that.
“And I really became concerned with the case when I found out the mother was going to use the money they raised for a headstone as reward money in exchange for information that led to a conviction,” she continued. “I thought the situation had to be pretty bad that it came down to that decision, and it also struck me that maybe not as many people who need to see the news reports are not seeing or hearing the news reports because, maybe, they don’t pay attention to those things. I just don’t think people should forget about this boy until someone pays for what they did to him.”
It was within the media reports in mid-July that included newly found facts about how Morgan was transported to the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center on the evening of June 15. A female juvenile spoke with investigators with the Moundsville Police Department and informed them her ex-boyfriend was somehow involved.
Finally, those officers learned that Sharon Leach, a 68-year-old registered nurse, transported Morgan and other juveniles to Wheeling for $20 and an unknown amount of marijuana. On Aug. 7, Leach was arrested on charges including obstructing, possession of Schedule 2 narcotics, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and was jailed at Northern Regional. The obstruction and possession charged were later dismissed and Leach entered a Kennedy Plea that did not acknowledge guilt but agrees there exists enough evidence for a conviction. She was sentenced to six months probation.
“The media reported the information they were given. I get that, and I am not blaming them, but the mention of marijuana may have allowed people to believe (Kyle) was into some bad things, and that makes me worry that the public might not have so much concern for the victim,” Castellucci said. “I can tell you that I don’t think that way.”
Castellucci has reached out to Hawkins via her Facebook Timeline, too, and the two moms have welcomed extended conversations about how someone in Wheeling might be able to help with whatever. It’s been during those interactions that this Wheeling mother has realized that Hawkins has remained sad all the way down to her soul.
“Just looking about her Facebook page, I can tell. Her sadness seems never ending, and she at least is at peace that comes with knowing what happened to her son,” Castellucci said. “It’s probably a blessing that she doesn’t live here in Wheeling because she doesn’t have to drive by the memorial she put up near where he was found.
“I have gone to Kyle’s memorial, and that’s what got me a little more fired up about this case again because I just can’t imagine how she must feel,” she continued. “Someone should have to pay for what they did, and that’s why I believe if there is more coverage, it might prompt memories and more people might come forward with more clues. If that could happen, it would get the case moving forward more, and that could only be a good thing.
“I know the detectives are working on it, but if more people came forward, there’s a better chance to find out what happened and why it happened.”
Needed: Direct Information
“They did have those posters all over school when it first happened, and they were still in place seven months later because the police really believe someone somewhere knows what really happened to Kyle,” Guy confirmed. “And those posters were still there during my senior year, and every time I would see them, they would make me sad, but it also reminded me that this case is still unsolved. It’s crazy.”
Was Kyle Morgan murdered in Wheeling?
Or did he pass away somewhere other than beneath a bridge that’s traveled by more than 55,000 motorists heading east and west along Interstate 70?
In Ohio County?
In Marshall County?
And was it a fall or a brutal attack during a robbery?
“We do believe the young man died here in Wheeling, and until the time when that fact can be eliminated for whatever reason, this will remain our homicide investigation until we get this thing solved,” Wheeling Police Detective Gregg McKenzie said. “But the Moundsville Police Department also is involved because that’s where he was reported to be missing, where people knew him best, and where the people live who gave him the ride here to downtown Wheeling.
“From what we understand, he was dropped off late in the evening the night before he was found under the bridge, but we don’t know what or who he encountered after he was dropped off at the location of the bus station that had closed and moved to 12th and Market,” he explained. “We don’t know if he was just walking around, who he met, or how he got under that bridge. We do not know what he did after he didn’t get the bus ticket to go back to Kentucky. Obviously, there are a lot pieces of this puzzle that we are still trying to put together.”
It began with identifying the young victim, and that process did not begin until the teenager was reported missing a day after he vanished from his father’s home in Moundsville. It was six days later when the state Coroner’s Office finally offered the horrible news to the parents.
No eyewitnesses. Nothing but rumors, many of which have been offered by a homeless person about another homeless person. Passed polygraph tests, a plethora of interviews, a backlogged crime lab
No direct information offered.
“We are still working this case every single day, but I know there are some people who don’t think that we are. We are, though; trust me on that,” McKenzie said. “If I was a parent of this young man, I would want the answers, too, and I would want them immediately.
“But this case has been worked on since the day it happened in our city, and the case has changed hands internally because Det. (Gregg) Harris became a prevention resource officer. Now, Det. Rob Safreed is on it, and he’s been talking to new people on a consistent basis,” he said. “The officers in this department are all on it, too, because we want this solved. We want people to know that if you do things like this here in Wheeling, you’re going to get caught.”
McKenzie, Harris, and Safreed have combed the homeless encampments that rest along abandoned roadways, along waterways, under bridges like the Fort Henry, and vacant structures. They collected as much evidence from the scene as possible, and they have awaited the results ever since.
McKenzie did confirm that gaining DNA is a good possibility.
“It is, and we should have that information very soon from the crime lab. I think most people know how inundated the one crime lab we have in our state is all of the time. It’s unfortunate, but at this point we are at the mercy of that lab,” the detective said. “It’s not a new issue. I’ve had to deal with this issue for 22-plus years, but most people think that these kinds of cases can be solved in an hour, and in reality, that’s just not true.
“This young man was found covered in an old blanket, but we really don’t know if he covered himself up after a fight or something,” McKenzie explained. “We just don’t know, but I do know that we have homeless people who stay down there, so it’s possible someone saw something.”
Lil’ help here?
“We have asked for help before, and we are asking of help again. There have been a lot of occasions when we’ve asked for help, and the people of this Valley have given it to us,” McKenzie said. “We’re going to continue working on it, and it’s still a very active case, but it would really be helpful that people in the community, if they know anything, finally come to us with it. It’s as easy as calling 304-234-3781. That’s my direct line, and I would love to speak to those people who finally decide to help us put Kyle to rest.
“If we don’t get help with some quality information, this case may not ever be solved. We need to have people call in with some direct information, and if they care about their own family, they should care about this one and come forward,” he added. “This family needs to know.”
The Steps of City Hall
“I just can’t imagine it,” Guy said. “His mom lived pretty far away, and for six days she didn’t know where he was or what happened to him. I’m not a mother, but I just have to believe she and Kyle’s dad were in pure hell.”
Angela Hawkins works as many overtime hours as she can at the plant where product labels are manufactured. She works a third shift, too, so that way she gets to sleep her days away and work the overnights instead.
It seems to keep the sadness away a little more that way.
“I still have to make money to pay the bills I have,” she said. “But Kyle is always on my mind and so is finding out what actually happened to him. Why he was under that bridge? Why he had no money when we know he did? Why he had to die?”
Kyle came to the Upper Ohio Valley before he began his freshman year at John Marshall High School to live with his father. Hawkins said her son grew impatient some of the “house rules” and asked if he could move to Marshall County.
“He was getting to that age in adolescence when we were not getting along very well,” the heartsick mother explained. “So, I felt he needed to be around his dad more because boys need their dads to do the hunting thing and the bonding thing. We all know most teenagers don’t like rules. I know I didn’t.
“He moved to Marshall County about a year before his death, but he really didn’t want to talk with me very much. He stayed upset with me, and every time I would call, he wasn’t home. At least that’s what I was told,” she said. “The last time I heard my baby’s voice was, I believe, February before he was killed.”
She received a phone call informing her a member of law enforcement was on the way to meet with her, and when Hawkins called Kyle’s father, she spoke with an officer who delivered the horrible news.
“I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to know,” she said. “That’s when the detective said bluntly, ‘Your son is dead.’
“It’s hard to say whether or not I’ll ever know the truth, but I know one thing; God knows the truth, and I am sure with as many prayers that I and others have said, He will answer those prayers one day,” Hawkins insisted. “I still don’t want to believe this happened to my son. I just want him to show up one day because this has all been the worst imaginable nightmare.”
Then it got worse.
Hawkins, who has organized a rally for this morning at 11 a.m. in front of the City-County Building on Chapline Street, accepted a Facebook message from another account member not on her Friends list about four months after her son’s burial in Kentucky. The individual claimed responsibility.
“The person claimed that he killed Kyle, and he was very rude about it,” she recalled. “He said he killed my son. He said he hit him in the back of the head and watched him bleed out. He said that Kyle was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was nasty, too.
“He then apologized for it, but the police found out that it wasn’t a real admittance. They told me that it was just some sicko,” Hawkins continued. “I just really don’t understand why another human being would do something like that to another person.”
It’s all the unanswered questions that haunt Kyle’s parents, and it has been a year now and still no one knows where to look next for another clue. The “what,” “when,” and “how” are all answered, but the unsolved involves the “where,” “who,” and the “why.”
“I’ve had a tough time with it,” Kyle’s mom said. “I’m not the same person, and I’m lucky I have great people around me that all wish my baby would have made it home.
“And, from what we understand now, Kyle wasn’t even planning to come to my house when he came home to Kentucky,” Hawkins admitted. “He was planning on going to one of his best friend’s, and yes, that would have bothered me.
“But at least he’d be here.”
(Photos provided by Angela Hawkins)