Ashley Darlene Walls, 17, and Matthew Allen Morrison, 18, have gone missing in Northeastern Arkansas.
Authorities in Jackson County have opened an investigation to locate the pair, who were last seen on Saturday morning before heading out on a day trip.
The county sheriff’s office said the teens left “a rural area” in Jackson County at about 11:30 a.m. Driving in a silver-colored 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer with handicapped plates, Walls and Morrison were reportedly wearing Newport High School-branded clothing at the time of their disappearance.
According to police, phone records show that the teens’ devices were in use on Sunday morning, almost 24 hours after they set out. At that time, GPS data indicated the two were somewhere near the Jackson/Woodruff county line and Poplar Bluff, Missouri — an area that covers more than 100 miles.
Jackson County officials join the growing list of law enforcement agencies enlisting the public in their search for missing persons. Intense, nationwide coverage of Gabby Petito’s disappearance and death has sparked renewed interest in missing persons cases, and investigators across the country are hoping to make the most of the moment.
In Teton County, Wyoming, where Petito’s remains were discovered only days before, officials discovered the body of Robert Lowery, a hiker and father of two from Texas who had gone missing the month prior. In that instance, investigators directly attributed the find to the Gabby Petito case.
In the case of Lauren Cho, a N.J. woman who went missing shortly after moving to southern California in June, the Petito affair also brought increased public scrutiny. But Cho’s case remains unsolved, and her family has discouraged comparisons between the two disappearances.
“We realize that on the surface, the public information for both cases share some similarities,” the Cho family said in a Facebook post. “Ultimately, these two cases are NOT the same and the differences run deeper than what meets the public eye.”
On Sept. 11 — the same day that Petito disappeared — a family of three in Kingman, Arizona set out for a camping trip. Erika Irene Allison, 36, Joshua Robert Martinez, 30, and their son, Psymon J. Kelly, 17, left their home to travel to nearby Katherine’s Landing. When they still hadn’t returned two weeks later, relatives reported them missing.
Their disappearance had also received modest national media coverage in the aftermath of the Petito case, eventually leading investigators to find them safe and sound in New Mexico — “living where they want to be,” according to authorities.
Elsewhere in Arizona, the search for 24-year-old geologist Daniel Robinson, drags on. Robinson was last seen leaving his work site near Phoenix in June, and his empty car was found several miles away.
The efforts to locate Robinson, who is Black, have been complicated by the local police department’s apparent disinterest in the case, according to Robinson’s father.
The Robinson disappearance seems to exemplify a familiar criticism of the Petito coverage to date — that the police and media are most interested in solving and covering cases where the victims are white women, dubbed “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”
“This same type of awareness should be continued for everyone,” said her father, Joe Petito, late last month. “If [the media doesn’t] do that for other people who are missing, that’s a shame,” he said. “It’s not just Gabby who deserves that.”
In the disappearance of Ashley Darlene Walls and Matthew Allen Morrison it remains to be seen how — or if — the “Petito effect” will impact their case.
Investigators are seeking the public’s assistance in tracking down Ashley Darlene Walls and Matthew Allen Morrison. Anyone who knows where they are, or what happened, is urged to call the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at 870-523-5842.