Miss Georgetown Morgan Elvis recently posted on Instagram that she was thankful for every day she’s given, “both the easy and the hard.”
She knows firsthand the future is not promised and just how hard the “hard” can be.
Her older sister, Heather Elvis, was kidnapped almost eight years ago from a boat landing in Socastee and has never been found. She was 20 and had been in a relationship with an older man who she ultimately learned was married.
The man, Sidney Moorer, and his wife, Tammy, were convicted of kidnapping Heather and are in state prisons in South Carolina, each serving a 30-year sentence.
Morgan, now 24 and a contestant in the 2021 Miss South Carolina pageant, has taken the pain of losing her sister and applied it to helping others who experience a similar trauma. Her pageant platform is to ensure families have the support they need in the first 48 hours of a child going missing in what she described as a community-minded effort.
She said during the question-and-answer period on the Miss South Carolina stage Tuesday that she believes she could have benefited greatly from such a program.
“I am here, broken and beautiful, to advocate for those who cannot be here. Those who weren’t as lucky as I was, who were shaped by their circumstance and not for the better. I will bridge the gap, you will never walk alone,” she said on Instagram after her on-stage presentation.
She and her parents, Debbie and Terry Elvis, are no strangers to the limelight. Heather’s case has been in the news for years. . Hundreds of people spent days searching woods and water for her. after she disappeared in December 2013 and numerous television crime shows have featured the case.
There have been four trials connected to Heather’s disappearance: Sidney Moorer’s first, for kidnapping, ended in mistrial. Another for obstruction of justice sent him to prison. And after his wife was convicted of kidnapping in 2018, Sidney Moorer was retried and convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap in 2019.
During the retrial, prosecutors introduced shocking new evidence — a cousin of Tammy Moorer saw a photo of what looked like a dead Heather, and Tammy and Sidney’s phones were tracked at the same time Heather’s phone was to a boat landing.
But for the Elvis family, while the convictions are justice at some level, they still don’t know what happened to Heather. Terry Elvis told ABC News for a documentary that aired in March of this year that he expects Heather to walk in the house one day, even though he knows that is unlikely.
Morgan Elvis turned to the Miss South Carolina Organization for strength amid heartbreak. This year is her fourth attempt at the crown, having represented Myrtle Beach, the Pee Dee and the Lowcountry from 2017-2019. She was crowned as Miss Georgetown County after the winner resigned.
Morgan also was in the Miss South Carolina Teen competition twice, representing Horry County the year her sister disappeared and Summerville in 2014.
She has said the pageant provided a safe haven when she needed guidance most. It helped her turn pain into something productive, she said.
Margie Watkins, the media committee chair for the pageant, said it is common for contestants to form their platforms based on life experience.
On Wednesday night, Magic City Teen Madelyn Faircloth, said she wants to raise awareness of congenital heart disease, which he family has experienced. Clemson Teen Reilly Ray focuses on support for children with Type 1 diabetes, which she has. Ashley O’Connor, Garden City Teen, is advocating for hands-free legislation. Her brother died in a car accident at 17.
Miss Hub City Jill Dudley, whose brother has diabetes, wants to focus on making insulin more affordable. Miss Camden Rylee Mathis packs book bags for children who have to be hospitalized and saw her program in action when her brother was diagnosed with Crohne’s disease. She is also advocating for blood donation.
Elvis is a graduate of the University of South Carolina Aiken, where she majored in legal studies focusing on victim advocacy and recently was sworn in as a guardian ad litem to advocate for children in the justice system.
In the Miss South Carolina pageant brochure, she names her goal — to direct the Victim Ombudsman Office for the Attorney General.
Morgan Elvis’ story replicates one from 36 years ago when 17-year-old Shari Smith was abducted from her Lexington County driveway and ultimately murdered. The next year, her sister Dawn Smith was crowned as Miss South Carolina and then second runner up to Miss America.
Now known as Dawn Smith Jordan, she has fashioned a successful gospel music career. She talks about her younger sister often and has recorded a song about her.
Larry Eugene Bell was executed in 1996 after being convicted of killing Shari Smith and 9-year-old Debra May Helmick of Richland County.
Morgan Elvis has said she sees the strength in each of the women she’s met through Miss South Carolina. Each one has been a victim and a survivor, she told WBTV in 2018.
“That’s what is so great, that Miss America is a melting pot for pain turned into power and women empowering other women,“ she said at the time.
Wednesday night, Elvis sang “I’m Here” from the “Color Purple,” which includes these lyrics:
“I’ve got my sister
I can feel her now
She may not be here,
but she’s still mine
I know she still love me”
This Miss South Carolina pageant will conclude Saturday night at the Township Auditorium in Columbia. On Friday night, Miss SC Teen will be crowned.