Four years ago, Christina Morris vanished without a trace from a Plano parking garage. Many people—family, friends, even strangers—couldn’t rest until she was found.
The last confirmed sighting of Christina Morris is an innocent blip on a surveillance tape at The Shops at Legacy. At 3:55 a.m., on the night of August 29, 2014, two figures walk through the camera’s blurry sightline: a man in a black, long-sleeved shirt and dark pants, Enrique Arochi, and Christina. Her blonde hair and wide smile aren’t visible. She’s only recognizable by her skirt, the flash of her sandals underneath, and her sassy black hat.
They present an innocuous picture: two young adults heading back to their cars after a night out with mutual friends. Christina and Enrique are on screen for less than 10 seconds, bleached out in night-vision. They pass almost directly beneath the camera. And then they’re gone.
December 9, 2017
For three years, the members of Team Christina met at Allen High School on most Saturday mornings. The December frost on the ground doesn’t stop them on the day I finally join them. The Help Find Christina Facebook page suggested that volunteers bring a golf club or walking stick with them. Though I’ve borrowed one of my dad’s drivers for the day, it turns out golf clubs are too short to be of much help. Luckily the team always brought plenty of spare sticks and sawed-off broom handles to spare for newcomers. Most of the regular searchers have their favorites, which they claim quickly. They also have hiking boots with thick rubber soles or steel tips.
A man pores over the search area he planned the night before, measuring its size against the number of volunteers. A woman has brought her teenage daughter. She’d known Christina’s father, Mark Morris, through his business cleaning pools, but recently, she recognized him on the news talking about his daughter. The next time she’d seen him, she embraced him, tears streaming down her face. “I had no idea,” she’d sobbed.
Back in 2014, hundreds of people came together under the banner of Team Christina. They turned out like an army, tramping through undeveloped lots in long lines. As weeks, then months, and finally years passed, the group shrank until 10 was considered a good turnout. But the core of Team Christina has always been strong. They all have their own reasons for meeting at Allen High School early on Saturday mornings. Ask any of them and they’d say that they believed wholeheartedly that one day they would find Christina. They’d add that Mark himself, most days, says that he knows Christina is gone. But sometimes, he hopes she’s alive, somewhere in Mexico, maybe, living some other kind of a life. Usually, however, he’ll say that they’re out in the wilds of North Texas looking for his daughter’s body.
The search usually centered around Anna, Texas, a quiet town just north of McKinney. Anna is still mostly farmland, but new developments have begun to crop up as more people settle there, as the major DFW metroplex is built out. In Anna, bigger houses are cheaper than they are farther south. People can spread out on plots of land, their nearest neighbors sometimes acres away. There are still plenty of hiding places.
“No one who showed up today knew Christina. I can never repay them for what they’re doing for me.” -Mark Morris on Team Christina
On December 9, 2017 the search numbers are few enough that we can all squeeze into two trucks, one with Christina’s face and description on the back window. That’s Mark Morris’ car. On the 30-minutes drive, still with my golf club between my feet, I tell them I’d like to write an article about Team Christina in honor of the upcoming four-year anniversary of Christina’s disappearance. They agree; I’m not the first journalist to make this request. In fact, I think I was one of the last. The winter searches are primarily through fields of dead yellow grass, shin-high and stiff with the cold. We rake it aside in clumps, looking for a silver ring with a love knot, a black hat, an iPhone, a patterned skirt. As we poke through, people share personal tidbits, tossing familiar small talk into the air.
Mark is always grateful for any help, and he’s happy to talk to me about his daughter. Christina was smart and motivated, a student at the University of Texas at Dallas. She was an enthusiastic advocate for her friends, encouraging them to chase their dreams. Christina was headstrong, the sort of person who knew what she wanted and went after it, and she inspired her loved ones to do the same. She was a goofy free spirit with an innate ability to light up any room. Her favorite color was purple. She loved giraffes. Her favorite quote was James Dean’s “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”
“No one who showed up today knew Christina,” Mark says warmly. “I can never repay them for what they’re doing for me.”
The searchers have found strange, often terrifying things on their weekly trips. Once, they ventured into an abandoned house where they discovered a mummified possum hanging from the ceiling, a knife buried in its hide. In June 2017, they found a human pelvis. Summer searches were brutal. They faced suffocating heat and swarms of insects surging up from the ground they disturbed. Sometimes they waded through muddy river beds, soaked to the waist in dirty water. But for three and a half years, people kept coming.
“Whenever I think about sleeping in on a Saturday, I picture Mark out here, looking for his daughter alone,” one team member explains. “And I know I have to come back.” After combing over the search area, the group habitually retired to Crow’s Country Café, an old-fashioned diner in the heart of Anna. We crowd around a long table, shedding jackets, winded and sweating. Mark recommends the fried pickles and the chicken strips. It’s very close to Christmas and a parade marches outside the window down the quaint main road.
Collin County felt the blow when Christina disappeared. In 2014, The Shops at Legacy area was one of the most popular places in Plano. It was an easily walkable microcosm of city life, in the center of a suburb that prided itself on its safety. At the time, it floored me. I had never heard of anything like it happening; in high school, my friends’ dry mantra was “Nothing ever happens in Plano.” Overnight, Christina became everyone’s daughter, trapped in every parent’s worst nightmare.
August 29, 2014
It was Labor Day weekend when Christina Morris drove to Plano from Fort Worth. She and a group of high school friends were meeting at The Shops at Legacy. They’d all gone their separate ways after graduating from Allen High School in 2009. On August 29, they gathered at the apartment of Paulina Petrosky, who lived at the shopping complex. The group was lively, excited to catch up over drinks.
Among them was Enrique Arochi. Christina didn’t know him, though he’d attended the same high school. In fact, Petrosky had only met him that summer. Initially, most of the group were parked near her apartment, but since it was time-restricted, they later moved to the garage by Henry’s Tavern, the first bar they visited that night. Christina parked her Toyota Celica facing Enrique’s car, a curvy black Camaro. Around 11, they arrived at Henry’s Tavern, where they hung out for a while. Then they crossed Legacy Drive to go to Scruffy Duffies. They stayed until last call and eventually, most of them returned to Petrosky’s apartment.
At 2:12 a.m. Christina texted her boyfriend, Hunter Foster, asking him to come pick her up. Earlier she had told him she couldn’t find her car keys. A little after 2:30, she recovered them, but again asked Hunter to come get her. Christina considered sleeping over instead of embarking on the hour-long drive back to Fort Worth, but decided she wanted to see Hunter. They’d been fighting that night.
It was a long, fuzzy evening, only pieced together later by witness testimony. As 4 a.m. approached, Christina decided to drive home. She sent her last few texts at 3:48 a.m., indicating that her phone was dying. By that point, Christina had already left Petrosky’s and was walking back to the garage where she’d parked her car. Christina was afraid of the dark. Even at her parents house, she wouldn’t go as far as the mailbox alone at night. She wouldn’t have wanted to walk that far alone, so, at first, it must have comforted her that Enrique Arochi was with her.
That night, Enrique hadn’t paid much attention to Christina. Instead, the others at the party observed him flirting with another girl, Sabrina Boss. Originally, Boss had tried to sleep on the couch, but Enrique, who was sitting there, refused to get up. Boss thought he seemed angry that she wouldn’t lie on the couch with him. She left the party and retired to the bedroom to sleep. A few minutes later, he followed her there and said, “Fine, I’ll just go home.”
When Christina was reported missing two days later, Enrique told detectives that he and Christina hadn’t spoken on that walk. To this day, no one but him knows what words they exchanged.
One of the others from the party, Steven Nickerson, called Christina about ten minutes after she and Enrique left the apartment to see if she’d made it safely to her car. Christina told him that they were almost there and she’d text him when she reached her car. Five minutes later, Nickerson texted her. She didn’t reply. He called her but only got her voicemail. At 3:55 a.m. Christina and Enrique entered the parking garage together. At 3:58 a.m., Enrique’s car left, ghosting out into the night.
At 4:08 a.m. a green Kia Soul was seen circling the garage, similar to an Uber driver looking for a passenger. But no one had any record of picking Christina up. Though she could have left on foot, it would have been almost impossible for her to have avoided the security cameras. The police were sure of one fact: no one saw Christina leave the parking garage. Her car never moved.
At 4:08 a.m., Enrique’s Camaro passed through the Custer Road gantry, heading north on Sam Rayburn Tollway. At 4:47 a.m. Christina’s phone pinged off a cellphone tower north of The Shops; at 4:56 a.m. Enrique’s did too. At 5:32 a.m. his phone pinged a tower near his home on Bethany Drive in Allen. The sun rose at 6:21 a.m.
Enrique, a manager at an Allen Sprint store, was supposed to report at work by 8 a.m. First, however, he stopped at a car wash and filled his tank. On the surveillance tapes, Enrique was shown peering inside his car and wiping off the passenger side with a rag. Next, he opened the trunk and scrubbed all over the inside of it with a gas station squeegee. He arrived at work three hours late. Later, his coworker testified that he was shaken up and scattered all day. He had scratches, bloodied knuckles, and a strange mark—perhaps a bite. He said he’d been in a fight the night before.
When Christina’s family reported her missing on September 2, they expected she’d be found and that everything was okay, that their daughter would return with a wild story to tell about Labor Day weekend. Instead, Plano police located her silver Toyota, still parked in the garage behind Henry’s Tavern. There was no sign of foul play. They collected a single can of Dr Pepper to extract Christina’s DNA and called Mark to allow him to drive his child’s car home, with no answers and no sign of Christina.
The Plano Police Department combed through the partygoers who had been at Petrosky’s apartment that night and eventually, contacted Enrique, the last person to see Christina. He told the police they’d parted ways at the sidewalk after leaving the apartment because they had parked in different garages, her by Henry’s Tavern and him near Blue Martini. He said that he took U.S. Route 75 back to his home.
However, toll records show that he didn’t take 75, but Sam Rayburn Tollway, which slants north, toward Anna on its way to Allen. Furthermore, a detective who reviewed the surveillance tapes from that night came across a ghostly image of two people walking into the Henry’s Tavern garage together, a small woman and a man.
When Enrique was called back for a second interview, detectives showed him a screenshot of the surveillance tape. He confirmed that it was indeed Christina and him.
September 30, 2016
Enrique quickly changed his story. He claimed they entered the garage together, but said he walked through the garage to Blue Martini. Christina had been loudly arguing on the phone with someone the whole way over; he’d barely exchanced a word with her.
However, at 3:58 a.m., his car didn’t exit from the garage by Blue Martini, but from the same garage he’d entered with Christina not five minutes after they walked inside.
So, Enrique changed his story again, admitting that they’d all parked near each other earlier in the night and that he’d let her borrow his phone to text and call her boyfriend, Foster. Cell phone records confirm it, though Hunter never replied to her. There were no signs of a struggle in the parking garage, but of all the ways Christina could have left it, the most likely scenario is that she left in Enrique’s car.
There are two prevailing theories that would later be described in the state’s case against Enrique. The “trunk theory” reasoned that Enrique could have advanced on Christina, still sore from his failed encounter with Sabrina Boss. For some reason—perhaps anger, drunkenness, impulsivity—he forced her into the trunk of his car and drove off. The morning after Christina’s disappearance, Enrique’s beloved car had a sizable dent in the fender. He said that he’d injured himself while changing a tire and reacted by punching the car. Perhaps, it was dented in a struggle to subdue Christina, who would have never gotten into his trunk of her own accord.
Or, police theorized, maybe he offered to drive her back to Fort Worth and she accepted, which was why he was careful to clean the passenger side. However, when he got on Highway 121, Christina realized that she wasn’t being taken where she wanted to go. Either they fought and he subdued her, or she got out of the car. Perhaps, if she tried to run, he revved his car into her in anger, denting the fender. Maybe in the midst of a struggle, Enrique made a fatal mistake. He might have thought of Anna, Texas and the peaceful, wide-open spaces, where anyone could be lost. Maybe he just drove, too shocked to know where his car was taking him. What happened between the hours of four and 10 in the morning, when he scrubbed his car down at a gas station, is anyone’s guess.
On September 26, the police searched Enrique’s Camaro. It had been recently cleaned again. Bits of vegetation were wedged around the wheelbase and the undercarriage had been damaged. A botanist identified the vegetation and concluded it came from a wet or damp area like a drainage ditch on the side of a country road, or a shaded area.
But when CSI technicians sprayed the inside of the trunk, they found the most damning evidence in the case: a DNA sample equivalent to six drops of blood. It was swabbed from the rubber weather stripping at the front of the trunk and from two places on the mat. It was Christina’s, either her blood or saliva. Her DNA was in that trunk. However it got there or why, Christina, who was claustrophobic and afraid of the dark, would have never wanted to be there.
Overnight, Christina Morris became everyone’s daughter, trapped in every parent’s worst nightmare.
On December 13, 2014, the Plano police arrested Enrique at his home on a single charge: the aggravated kidnapping of Christina with intent to inflict bodily injury, violation or sexual abuse, or otherwise terrorize her. The trial that unfolded in June 2016 was the first time most people saw all of the evidence for and against Enrique, and the case the prosecution had built around Christina’s absence, rather than any lead on a body. Meanwhile, every Saturday, hundreds of people joined Christina’s family with dogs and drones to search for her, wearing purple in her honor.
WFAA, one of the many news sources who covered the trial, reported that one of the prosecutors, Zeke Fortenberry, admitted that no one knew where Christina was. But they knew where she had been: in the trunk of the Camaro. One of Enrique’s defense attorneys, Keith Gore, replied that the police department had focused its attention solely on Enrique from the beginning. “They refuse to see the possibility that it’s something else,” he said.
However, the defense had trouble providing another suspect for the jury to consider. They suggested Hunter Foster as a likely suspect. Though originally he had been reticent, it was discovered that on the night in question Hunter had sold drugs to an undercover federal officer in downtown Dallas, which became his alibi.
Hunter was then, and remains today, one of the many questions of the case, simply because of how rarely he appears. He wasn’t present when Christina vanished; he didn’t text her back that night; he has seldom, if ever, spoken to the press about his missing girlfriend. Still, he had an alibi. The defense also brought up an uncorroborated tip from an inmate in the Cleburne County Jail who claimed Christina was murdered because she witnessed a stabbing by the Aryan brotherhood.
The details the case hinged on—a motive, for instance—were tricky to prove. Why would Enrique attack Christina? Would a simple rejection from a girl everyone thought he’d been flirting with really drive him to attempt sexual assault and commit murder? He certainly had the opportunity, alone with Christina in a parking garage long after midnight, but motive is harder to ascertain. Did anything in Enrique’s life point to a pattern of violence?
Enrique had one other felony assault charge, brought while he was a known suspect in Christina’s disappearance because of evidence discovered during the investigation. In 2012, he had engaged in a six-month relationship with a 16-year-old girl while he was 22. The girl, who was never identified, told police that Arochi choked and hit her during sex. He’d also lied to his current girlfriend about his whereabouts on the night Christina vanished, telling her around 10 p.m. that he was going to bed, when really, he went to The Shops at Legacy to party. To get a conviction, every detail had to be brought forward, any strange behavior of Enrique’s was dissected for evidence that he was capable of such a disturbing crime.
And then there was the olive jar. Found in a shoe while executing a search warrant at Enrique’s home, the olive jar became the strangest, most superfluous piece of evidence. It was filled with bits of paper that had unreadable writing on them, soaked in cinnamon and oil. An investigator, who didn’t claim to be an expert, testified that a google search led her to believe it was a “hechizo”, which meant “spell”. According to this investigator, the words inside were a written request, probably to a deity of some kind, and the oils were meant to invoke a blessing. Placing it in a shoe meant “domination over others.” Eventually the jar was ruled as inadmissible, but one full day of the trial was taken up by the whiff of witchcraft.
In a later prison interview with the Dallas Morning News, Enrique said that his character had been slandered. The olive jar made him an outsider, or worse, a foreigner with strange, superstitious habits. The lies he’d told the police made his conscious a guilty one. A phone, which he stole from the Sprint store where he worked, made him untrustworthy. Enrique’s Latina mother, who spoke Spanish to the press as she protested that her son was the victim of a “tar and feather,” job, as reported by Star Local Media, didn’t convince a public that was, and is, with Christina.
Meanwhile, the defense attacked the prosecution’s key pieces of evidence. They railed against the cell phone pings, calling their reliability into question. They also protested the prosecution’s request to allow the jury to view Enrique’s car, which was temporarily and securely towed to the Collin County Courthouse, so that they could peer into the trunk where Christina’s DNA was found, picture her curled up in there. An ace-in-the-hole, this emotional play won the sympathy of the jury.
Christina had been missing for over two years when the jury returned with their verdict on the morning of September 30, 2016, after deliberating for 17 hours. The courtroom was crowded with family and supporters of both Christina and Enrique, as well as news crews who were allowed to film the closing arguments and verdict. The judge warned those present not to react or they would be held in contempt of the court. There was an achingly long silence. The news cameras panned over the crowd of Christina’s friends and family, and total strangers, all tense and nervous, before settling on Enrique.
His defense attorney leaned over, presumably to offer support. Enrique gave a small smile, eyes falling on the camera that was trained on him, and sobered. The two years had aged him, adding lines and weight to his face. Enrique blew out his cheeks briefly, shutting his eyes before he was asked to stand. He was found guilty.
Finally, Christina’s parents were allowed to speak on Christina’s behalf in front of the court and Enrique. On the stand, they alternated between fury and pain, from her mother, Jonni McElroy, who vowed to fight to her dying breath to ensure Enrique stayed behind bars, to the heartfelt pleas of Anna Morris, Christina’s stepmother: “How can you continue to torture us? How can you sit there and not tell us what happened to our girl?”
“I’m just going to talk to you, Enrique,” Mark said when it was his turn. “I see you smirking. It doesn’t seem to bother you a bit, what you did.” While he talked about his daughter and what he had imagined her final moments were like, his anger and grief were palpable. “She put her trust in you to walk her to her car. And how’d you repay that?” He paused frequently, battling for every word. “I hope you rot in hell. That’s all I’ve got,” he finished.
These final details completed the prosecution’s work. If Enrique had ever been innocent, he wasn’t anymore. He has been serving a life sentence ever since. The felony assault charge for his underage ex-girlfriend was dismissed “in the interest of justice” after he was handed a life sentence for Christina’s kidnapping, since he was already serving so much time.
Since the trial, Enrique has upheld his innocence, filing appeals in the hopes of overturning his conviction or getting a new trial altogether. In a prison interview with the Dallas Morning News’ Valerie Wigglesworth, he insisted that he was innocent, and overall, a good person. Of Christina, he said, “I hope she’s okay.”
There are two potential reasons why Enrique never told anyone where to find Christina. The first is that he’s innocent and his condemning account of that night was simply a tangle of nervous lies. However, the second possibility is that he knows keeping his silence could help his appeals, which he has been working on since his conviction. The brief his new attorney, Steven Miers, filed with the court is a matter of public record; in it he calls the jury’s decision into question, claiming the prosecution’s case was “based upon guesses, speculation and hunches about what evidence may mean.”
The prosecution’s answering brief rebutted: “His story changed repeatedly as he talked to friends and police, and it contradicted physical evidence and surveillance videos.” Prosecutors wrote, “Christina’s DNA was found in his trunk, where she never would have entered voluntarily.” Furthermore, they continued, they had found nothing to suggest another suspect besides Enrique. Not a footprint, not a fingerprint, not a drop of blood.
What happened between the hours of four and 10 in the morning, when Enrique scrubbed his car down at a gas station is anyone’s guess.
As 2017 faded and 2018 rolled in, Enrique continued serving his time. Team Christina still searched every Saturday, and Christina herself was nowhere to be found.
In the meantime, progress hasn’t stopped. Since 2014, the cities of the DFW metroplex have spread out, merged borders, and forged new ones further out. Suburbs like Plano, McKinney and Allen now have their own suburbs in Prosper, Parker and Anna. In a fast-growing concrete jungle, every passing day ran the risk of burying her under new foundations.
Christina’s possible location was heavily examined in the trial and has been Team Christina’s sole focus. During the trial, detectives used the vegetation that had been recovered from Enrique’s Camaro, along with the cell phone pings, toll records and the car’s mileage, to zero in on certain key areas where Christina might be. It had to be accessible by car, yet distant enough that adventuring kids or people passing through would never discover it. Most of the signs pointed to empty places, corners and offroads. Anna fit the profile and Enrique had friends there. He’d know it.
In Anna, Team Christina became a common sight for local residents, combing through thickets of trees and standing by the sides of roads. Every Saturday, they considered where a car might have reasonably pulled into the grass at 4 a.m. on a Labor Day weekend. They wondered whether a young woman in the trunk might have felt the jolt of rough terrain as the wheels pulled to a stop. Or if, perhaps, her suffering had already ended and she had felt nothing at all. It’s hard to search for clues without thinking of her, and of a young man, whose life had taken a terrifying twist, racing the sun.
If Enrique took Christina, it was done out of anger, frustration and drunken courage. They should have entered the garage and arrived at their cars, which were parked so close the prosecution noted that they were facing each other, and there, they should have parted ways. But, in the end, though Enrique made it to his car, Christina didn’t make it to hers. Enrique has never been able to explain why.
At one point in the trial, the prosecutor asked a testifying detective a pointed question: “Were you looking for a live body or a dead body?”
Soberly, the detective responded, “A dead body.”
March 7, 2018
Real estate in Collin County is at a thrilling high. As prices for housing rise within major city limits, the surrounding smaller towns have become ripe ground for modern developments. For example, one particular 55-acre lot in Anna. It’s a quiet spot of land just south of Taylor Boulevard, near Mesquite Lane. People live all around it in newly sprouting neighborhoods. It’s not far from U.S. Route 75, and just minutes from Anna’s main street and Crow’s Country Café. Team Christina searched this lot once or twice in the past, spread out along the little creek that runs through.
Heavy rains cancelled a late February search, but Team Christina had been out the previous Saturday with plans to go out again the next weekend. In the meantime, a crew arrived on the morning of Wednesday, March 7 to clear trees. It was here, about 50 yards south of Taylor Boulevard, that two workers saw Christina on a hillside east of the creek. A skirt and skull rested in plain sight, as if she were waiting to be found.
Almost immediately, everyone, from the Anna police to the Collin County Sheriff’s office to the Plano police, was called. Anna had been so closely associated with Christina for so long that it hardly seemed possible that it would be anyone else. It’s a miracle that the crew hadn’t disturbed her or inadvertently buried her. Her DNA and dental records were on file, so it only took a few hours for the medical examiner’s office to make a positive identification. On the morning of March 8, Christina’s mother, Jonni, arrived to lay flowers near the site, and Mark came with a few close members of Team Christina. By afternoon, the official announcement was made, telling us what many of us already guessed: at long last, Christina Morris had been found.
Currently, the Collin County District Attorney’s office is building a murder case against Enrique with renewed energy. Christina’s location in Anna adds new weight to the circumstantial evidence that led to his conviction. Christina remains on people’s minds and hearts, not only those who searched for her, but those who heard her story, who followed her case and hoped she’d come home. Her impact spreads beyond Texas. In their quest for justice, her family brought her story to the national stage: her mother appeared on Dr. Phil; People magazine covered the discovery of her body; Crime Watch Daily and Dateline featured her as recently as this year.
In April, the Morris family were able to give Christina a proper burial. Her emotional service was awash with purple, her favorite color. They invited Team Christina as well as members of the press. Finding her meant laying to rest not just her body, but the Morris family’s last hope. It may finally answer the questions that have haunted her loved ones for four years, but that’s a pitiful comfort. Those who truly loved her would have preferred to have Christina.
As for Enrique Arochi, he remains incarcerated. As of July 2018, the 5th Court of Appeals has upheld his conviction and sentence.
Team Christina, which has grown close after years of supporting the Morris family, suddenly had their Saturday mornings back. The road they chose to walk together ended. It’s hard to believe that they didn’t get to bring Christina home. It’s almost unfair, considering the miles they traveled, the sacrifices they made and the tears they shed. Another group might have dissolved back into individuals, but not Team Christina. Some of them missed the shared purpose of the search and the act of walking desolate fields, thinking about Christina. In the wake of her discovery, they have begun to transition into a support group for other missing persons.
In fact, they have paid particular attention to a case from Fort Worth, where Christina Morris last lived. Two years ago, a young woman, also 23, vanished from the parking lot of her apartment complex. Her name is Typhenie Johnson. She has been missing since October 10, 2016. Her family is still searching.
Find out more about Christina Morris and Team Christina on the Help Find Christina Morris Facebook page.
Join the search for Typhenie Johnson and Taalibah Islam.