Fallen officer left VA job 'to be there for his brothers' after Clinton officer killed last year
By LAURA BAUER AND JUDY L. THOMAS | The Kansas City Star | Published: March 8, 2018
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — Hours after a Clinton police officer was shot and killed last August, Christopher Ryan Morton drove south out of Kansas City.
Once in Clinton, he "suited up" and joined officers he'd worked alongside for nearly two years before taking a job with Veterans Affairs in the Kansas City area. Morton, who remained connected to the force as a reserve officer, wanted to help search for the man who killed Officer Gary Michael, said Tim Jackson, a close friend of Morton's since the two were teenagers.
"After that point, he let everybody know that his intentions were to return to Clinton and work there," Jackson said. "They’re all a tight family. Once that happened, he wanted to be there for his brothers."
Six weeks after Michael's death, Morton left his VA job and went back full time with the Clinton Police Department. Friends said Morton, who they knew as Ryan, felt the officers there needed him.
On Tuesday night — seven months to the day after his colleague was gunned down during a traffic stop — Morton, 30, lay dying in a Clinton home where he and two other officers had responded to a 911 disturbance call that turned out to be from Windsor, Mo. The other two officers also were shot, but did not appear to have life-threatening injuries. The alleged suspect, James E. Waters, died after a lengthy exchange of gunfire with police.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said in a statement Wednesday that in September, Morton took the post that had been filled by Michael.
"Those two warriors are together now," Greitens said, "in the company of God, who has brought his sons home."
Morton and the other two officers who were injured Tuesday night all are graduates at the Central Missouri Police Academy at the University of Central Missouri. The tragedy has been felt nationwide, university spokesman Jeff Murphy said.
“There are lots and lots of officers around the state and in the country who attended the academy,” Murphy said. “It’s a very tight-knit community. Officers who leave the academy tend to stay in touch, so it has a wide and deep impact on those who knew Christopher and studied with him and worked with him.”
Friends say Morton was close with his family and loved being an uncle to his young niece. In 2014, he recorded a short video message from Kandahar to his mom on Mother's Day.
"I want to give a special shout out to my mom. Happy Mother's Day," Morton said in the U.S. Army video. "Love you, miss you. It's been a long deployment, we'll see you soon."
Aiza Evans met Morton at Whiteman elementary school. She said her dad and Morton's dad were in the Air Force together and when their fathers went bowling, Evans and Morton would hang out. The two became lifelong friends.
When Morton, a member of the Army National Guard, served two deployments overseas, he and Evans would message back and forth.
"He was so passionate in everything he did," Evans said. "He joined the military because he wanted to serve his country and follow in his dad's footsteps."
When he was in Afghanistan, Evans would worry about her friend if she had heard of something going on over there. She'd message him and ask if he was OK.
"He would just laugh at me and say, 'You're silly,'" Evans said. "Then he comes back here and this happens."
When news spread that Morton was the officer killed in Clinton, dozens posted on the veteran's Facebook page. Some shared photos and personal memories.
"The world has lost a great soldier and even a better person," wrote Matthew Hografe, who said that he had deployed with Morton four years ago. "You will never be forgotten."
Many mentioned Morton's love of the Kansas City Royals.
In 2014, the team honored Morton as a member of the military during a home game.Dressed in Royals gear, Morton stood in the crowd from his "Our Heroes" seat, waving and tipping his cap. On that day, Morton presented pitcher Jeremy Guthrie with a U.S. flag that was flown in Kandahar during his deployment.
“He absolutely loved the Royals,” said Michael Weinmann, who met Morton while attending high school in Knob Noster and later attended the police academy with him. “No matter what he had going on, he would always try and make it to the home games.”
Friends say Morton was a "closet nerd." Especially when it came to all things Star Wars, Captain America and comic books.
And his '80s Jeep, Weinmann said.
"He used to ask me tons of questions about how to fix this and how to fix that," he said. "And if I could show him how something worked."
Jackson went with Morton the day he got the Jeep a few years ago. Morton had just finished his tour in Afghanistan.
"He was trying to figure out how to drive an old stick and he wasn’t very good at it," Jackson recalled. "But we made it."
As a friend he was known as the one who would help someone with a problem. And the one who liked to tell stories, especially from the police beat.
"He’s the funny, loud talky one," Jackson said. "He would command a presence in a room."
As a police officer, friends say he was proactive and took initiative to follow up on calls.
“He was great at talking to people, a little intense, but approachable regardless,” Weinmann said. “He was also tenacious, like a dog with a bone. He would approach a problem from every angle until he solved it.”
Never afraid, they said.
"You wouldn’t have enough space in your article to define his character," Jackson said. "He was just a great guy who wanted to serve his country and community. He did that. ... I know he did the best that he could do and that’s what’s important."
Morton knew the dangers of police work, but was very patriotic, Evans said.
Last fall, Morton chatted with Evans on social media about him returning to the Clinton force.
“Just as long as you stay safe,” Evans wrote to her friend. “Isn’t that where a cop was killed a few months ago? I think it made the national news.”
“Yeah, I took his spot,” Morton responded. “Part of the reason I went back.”
Evans sent back a sad-face emoji.
“It’s OK,” Morton told her in the message. Michael, he said, "fought til the end. Just trying to help the PD heal now.”