Correction: Marie Covington’s family reported her missing to Virginia Beach police on Thursday, August 18. She was last seen on Wednesday, August 17, police and her family confirmed.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Alerts issued when someone is missing have come too late or with gaping holes in the facts surrounding the case.
This was the case in 1995 when Emory University student Jennifer Evans disappeared from the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The public was not notified the tourist was in danger until her parents brought in retired FBI Special Agent Irvin Wells.
Wells called on local newsrooms to spread the word that Evans was missing. Reporters then approached the Virginia Beach Police, which later confirmed the pre-medical school student was missing. Days later, two Navy SEAL candidates were arrested for Evans’ death. Her partially clothed remains were found in a Newport News park.
In September of 2017, Ashanti Billie disappeared from Virginia Beach. Police issued a news release stating Billie was last seen leaving her apartment building in the Town Center area of Virginia Beach.
After meeting with her parents who were desperately searching for answers, reporters learned Billie was last seen on surveillance video entering Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, and her car was caught on camera leaving the base and not Town Center as was stated in the news release.
Days later, the FBI announced it was taking over the investigation into Billie’s disappearance. Agents later found her remains in Charlotte, North Carolina. A former Navy man, with access to the base, was charged with Billie’s death.
The family of 40-year-old Marie Covington of Virginia Beach reported her missing late Thursday night, after last seeing her on Wednesday in a vehicle with Morton, police said. 10 On Your Side was unaware that the mother of four was missing until around 8 a.m. Saturday. That’s when Covington’s 18-year-old daughter contacted 10 On Your Side, via email, to ask for help in finding her mother.
The newsroom didn’t get confirmation that Covington was indeed missing until around 7 p.m. Saturday night, not via news release, but when editors learned from Norfolk Police scanner traffic that a citizen had found the victim’s driver’s license in their front yard.
A partial transcript of the incident is below:
“We have 242 and 611 currently 10-9 at Gygax [Rd.] where they found the girl’s ID.”
By then, suspect Gary Morton was already in custody after Virginia State Police arrested him following a chase early Saturday morning that started in Chesapeake and ended in Norfolk.
Another police transmission offered additional information.
“The guy just confessed to Virginia Beach detectives while they were in the 2nd precinct were looking for her.”
Saturday at 9:50 p.m., Virginia State Police, at the request of Virginia Beach Police, issued an Ashanti Alert. Then at 10:49 p.m., Virginia Beach Police issued a tweet announcing Covington was missing and endangered.
A few minutes later scanner traffic revealed Covington was found dead.
“Regarding that missing female, she is deceased,” said the transcript.
10 On Your Side contacted Virginia State Police and Virginia Beach Police for an explanation on why the alerts were not issued in the hours or the day after Covington was reported missing.
State Police issued a statement that explains the Ashanti Alert protocols and how state authorities assist local authorities.
“An activation of any statewide missing person alert happens upon the request from the lead investigating agency…for questions concerning the date of the activation…you will need to contact the Virginia Beach Police Department,” wrote Sergeant Michelle Anaya.
10 On Your Side reached out to Virginia Beach Police Public Affairs via its Media Request Form, where a response is promised within 24 hours. Additionally, an email and a telephone voicemail were sent to the Public Affairs Office. On Tuesday, August 23, VBPD sent a release about the case, and said it “opened an inquiry into the timeline of our initial response, reporting, and public notification.”
Here’s the full release from VBPD:
On August 18, 2022, officers from the Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) were dispatched to Thalia Trace Drive for a Missing Person call for service at 10:25 p.m. The responding officer made a Missing Person’s report for Marie Covington, which included entering the vehicle she was last seen in with Gary Morton the previous day, August 17th, into NCIC.
On August 20, 2022, Troopers with the Virginia State Police (VSP) attempted to initiate a traffic stop for a moving violation. The vehicle refused to stop and the VSP pursued the vehicle until it came to a stop in the City of Norfolk. The operator and sole occupant of the vehicle, Gary Morton, M/43, was taken into custody. At that time of the arrest, VSP discovered that the vehicle Morton was operating was connected to Covington, who was listed as missing. The VSP immediately contacted the VBPD and advised them of the incident.
VBPD Detectives responded and continued their investigation into the circumstances surrounding Ms. Covington. As VBPD detectives investigated further, facts and circumstances began to indicate possible foul play was involved in the disappearance of Ms. Covington which led to VBPD requesting that VSP issue an Ashanti Alert on August 20, 2022.
As the investigation commenced, VBPD detectives received information that Ms. Covington’s remains could be located in Norfolk, VA. Also on August 20, 2022, Members of the VBPD, with the assistance of the Norfolk Police Department (NPD), responded to an address in Norfolk where Ms. Covington was found deceased from apparent homicidal violence. NPD Detectives have assumed the lead for the active homicide investigation.
The Virginia Beach Police Department has opened an inquiry into the timeline of our initial response, reporting, and public notification.Virginia Beach Police Department Public Affairs
Meanwhile, WAVY confirmed there is an authentic GoFundMe account to help the Covington family if you wish to donate.