“She was doing better than I had ever seen her,” says longtime friend, Christine Lieber, who last saw her at an event they attended Oct. 26, 2014, along with their children and parents. “She was in a really good spot.”
Since Morris was just 16-years-old, she had alleged that her cross-country coach, James Wilder III, had begun sexually abusing her when she was a popular athlete at Lindbergh High School in St. Louis, Missouri.
It wasn’t until years after dealing with depression and alcoholism to cope with the pain she felt that she mustered the courage in July of 2013 to go to the police. She had captured Wilder on record admitting in a conversation what he had allegedly done to her.
Then, in August of 2013, Wilder, who is now 54, was arrested and charged with six counts of statutory sodomy, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Lieber noted how it was fantastic to watch Morris at peace. “The trial was coming to fruition and she was happy that there was finally going to be some justice,” she says.
But on Nov. 4, 2014, Morris suddenly died, along with her case — as prosecutors said they needed her testimony to continue. And so the case was dismissed. “It was devastating,” her mother, Joan Morris, shares with PEOPLE.
An autopsy ruled that she died of asphyxiation. Morris’ manner of death was mysteriously undetermined. Based on reporting from BuzzFeed News, The Case Died with Her explores Morris’ allegations against Wilder and how her death permanently ended the investigation.
“This woman who was so strong and so resilient (was) holding onto that secret for so many years,” says former prosecutor and legal commentator Loni Coombs.
“She finally had the strength to come forward and just as she is about to have her chance at justice, she dies in this really tragic and strange way,” she says. “It was a gut punch to hear the ending of that story like that. And I was like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What’s going on here? This just doesn’t seem right.”
Joan, as well as Morris’ younger sister, Andrea Morris, 35, hopes the special spreads her story.
“I would blame her failure to thrive on this alleged, early sexual abuse,” says Joan. “I wish that I could’ve seen what kind of person she would turn out to be had this not interrupted her life at the time that it did.” Andrea says.
“And the problem is, it sort of never stopped. That person was always an influence on her. It seems like it just gnawed away at her, her entire life until she decided to finally do something about it. And then, to have it just cut off at the knees like that when she passed away,” she says. “It was just unbelievable to wrap your mind around.”
The Case Died with Her airs Dec. 6 on Oxygen at 7 EST/6 CST.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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