Written by Stephanie Allen

1998: Johnnie Morris

1998: Johnnie Morris by Stephanie Allen

Sixteen Years After Shooting, Lakeland Family Still Feels Loss

December 23, 1998

One bullet tore a family apart.
It left two young boys without a father.
A mother and father without their oldest son.
Sisters without their brother.
Brothers without their best friend.
A family without their “Poppa.”

Almost 16 years ago – two days before Christmas 1998 – that one bullet hit 23-year-old Johnnie Morris in the head, killing him by the time police arrived.

His family hasn’t been the same since.

Lakeland police Detective Brad Grice was assigned Morris’ case when it happened. He has been investigating it for almost 16 years, but has yet to solve it.

He says he’s hoping that will soon change.

As part of a continuing series in partnership with the Lakeland Police Department, The Ledger is profiling many of the department’s 37 cold cases and unsolved homicides.

The detectives say that with a little help from the community and some extra time to work, they might be able to solve more of the cases and in turn bring closure to many more families.

“Before I leave, I’d like to solve all the ones I’ve worked on,” Grice said. “This is one that I always said I’d go back and do more on.

“It’s still dear to my heart.”


Lakeland police received a call about 3:50 a.m. Dec. 23, 1998, about a man lying shot in an alley near 701 1/2 E. Myrtle St. in Lakeland.

A woman told police she was walking in the alley when she found Morris. She started screaming and ran to get help.

When police got there, he was dead.

Grice said Morris was a known street-level drug dealer and was selling in the area that night. However, his older sisters disagree.

Bridgett Morris-Marsh and Frances Morris said their brother had gotten a job with Tampa Maid Foods and was working hard to change his life around.

He was making money in an honest way and earlier that day, he had given almost all the cash he had to Morris-Marsh so she could buy a bike for one of his sons for Christmas.

He was living with Morris-Marsh at her home on Kettles Avenue, along with her children and his son, Demetrius Morris.

Morris-Marsh said her brother left earlier that night with a friend and their younger brother, Raymond Morris. The three men hung around near Myrtle Street, but then left. And when Raymond Morris came home without his brother, the sisters said they knew something was wrong.

They don’t know why Morris went back that night, but they wish he hadn’t.

And they wish someone who was out there would come forward to police.

Morris-Marsh said she understands that whoever shot her brother is probably afraid of getting in trouble and facing the consequences, but eventually, someone has to come forward.

“They don’t know what they did to our family,” Frances Morris said. “We were a close family, and we still are, but it took a part of us when it happened.”

Morris-Marsh said she calls Grice often to check for updates on Morris’ case, but lately there hasn’t been anything new. She gets her hopes up whenever she hears from him and prays all the time that someone will come forward.

And one day, she said, she knows someone will.

“I know it’s going to be alright,” she said. “Somebody is going to have a heart one day and they’re going to tell it.”

Stephanie Allen can be reached at stephanie.allen@theledger.com or 863-802-7550.


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