The summer of fear: How a wanted man preyed on children
Morgan MacDonald racked up dozens of criminal charges, including allegations of sex trafficking
In the beginning, no one, not even police knew the real identity of the plump man with tattoos who showed up in the town of Truro, N.S., in the summer of 2019.
He partied hard. Wore teenage girls like accessories. And flicked $50 bills at the boys. He called himself Flip. On Facebook he went by Kaycee MacDonald.
In fact, he was Morgan MacDonald, a 31-year-old man who was wanted by police.
MacDonald had been released from a maximum security prison in New Brunswick on May 16, 2019, ordered to serve the rest of a four-year sentence at a halfway house in Saint John.
But he never showed up at the halfway house, setting in motion a summer of fear and frustration for parents and teens in Truro.
"I had to prepare for the worst and that was a bullet."
Over the next four months, while at large and despite parents raising the alarm to authorities, MacDonald racked up dozens of criminal charges, including allegations of sex trafficking crimes against youth and Indigenous children in Nova Scotia.
Parents who spoke to CBC News say RCMP and Truro Police Service did not take their concerns about MacDonald seriously. They felt the information they provided to police was met with skepticism and excuses, and they felt powerless as MacDonald continued to allegedly prey on youth.
Truro has its own police force, which polices the town. The RCMP are responsible for the rest of Colchester County. Both police agencies maintain they followed up on every credible lead and thoroughly investigated the whereabouts of MacDonald, ultimately leading to his arrest in Truro on Sept. 23, 2019.
But the volume and severity of MacDonald's alleged crimes, and the timeline of the concerns parents brought to police raise questions about what steps law enforcement took to find MacDonald after he failed to show up at his halfway house and whether police could have followed up on tips from parents in Truro and arrested him sooner.
A 2018 Statistics Canada study found Nova Scotia had the highest rate of human trafficking in the country in 2016.
'Parents were feeling helpless'
Megan Moody, who runs a parenting support program for the Native Council of Nova Scotia, spoke to several concerned parents at the time and believes parents were let down by police.
"Parents were facing no public awareness that there was a safety and well-being issue for the youth in Truro," said Moody.
"Parents were feeling helpless and feeling as they were not being taken seriously with their reports as to what was happening with their children."
The day MacDonald was released from jail, it's unclear how he was supposed to get to the halfway house in Saint John, 250 km away from Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B., where he'd been incarcerated.
The jail's parole officer is supposed to determine in advance if accompaniment and transportation is needed. This can be private car, government vehicle or public transit, according to Corrections Services Canada. CSC wouldn't provide details on MacDonald's transportation plans, citing the Privacy Act.
A Saint John Police Force spokesperson says CSC notified them that MacDonald was missing the day he failed to show up at his halfway house, but they were unable to track him down.
"The officer assigned to the file spent weeks following up on leads and reaching out to some of Mr. MacDonald's known contacts in an attempt to apprehend him," said Jim Hennessy.
On June 25, more than a month after he'd gone missing, Saint John Police notified the public and a Canada-wide warrant was issued for MacDonald's arrest.
By then, MacDonald was already in Truro, off the radar of local police even though his criminal history in Nova Scotia dates back to 2013, when he and four accomplices robbed a taxi driver at knife point in Dartmouth. Prior to that, MacDonald has convictions for robbery and assault in northeastern Ontario dating back to 2009.
Mother says RCMP told her it was typical teenage behaviour
It was summer. School was out and teenagers were freer and easier than usual when the mother of a 14-year-old boy reported to Colchester District RCMP in Truro that her son hadn't come home — he was past a court-ordered curfew, she told them.
She also reported he'd been home - to use the hose to wash a car - earlier that day with a man in his thirties named Flip. That man appeared to be new in the community. She said the RCMP dismissed her complaint, calling her son's behaviour typical for a teenager.
Today, the woman's son is an alleged victim of child trafficking and drug trafficking at the hands of MacDonald. CBC News is not naming the mother to protect her son's identity.
"Flip" started reaching out to local teens on Facebook.
According to parole board documents, MacDonald had a history of mental health problems and a violent past, which included convictions for uttering threats, assault and robbery dating back to 2007.
In 2009, he robbed a restaurant employee with a knife to her face.
MacDonald had "difficult relationships with women in the past and they need to be protected against your use of manipulation, influence and control to gain personal advantage," parole board documents from 2018 read.
As the summer progressed, the mother noticed her son's behaviour change. He was gone from home more often than not and stopped responding to texts. Distraught, the mother started asking around and learned Flip went by the name Kaycee MacDonald on Facebook.
She heard he might even be Morgan MacDonald, a man wanted by police.
Other parents drew her attention to MacDonald's Canada-wide arrest warrant and she compared it to Kaycee MacDonald on Facebook, to the photo of him standing next to her son. She was certain they were the same person.
She said she called Crimestoppers several times and reported it, but nothing happened.
Around Aug. 11, she found a puffer in her son's bedroom with a prisoner identification number from the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B., the prison where MacDonald had been jailed.
She called Colchester District RCMP and told the receptionist she had a puffer that she believed was proof that a wanted man had her son.
"The lady I was talking to said, 'Well what do you want us to do about it?' I said, 'I'm trying to tell you that this is proof that this Flip or Kaycee MacDonald is really Morgan MacDonald who was wanted on a federal warrant.'"
The mother says no one from the RCMP took her information or retrieved the puffer.
Meanwhile, her son had been missing for weeks. By the end of the summer, panic and fear set in among several parents of teens in Truro, according to Moody.
Moody runs a support program for parents and said she spoke to several concerned parents at the time, including the missing boy's mother.
"Youth were not returning home at night, and parents feared their children were doing drugs and being manipulated by adults who were supplying their children with drugs and leading their children into illegal activity, including human trafficking and violence," said Moody.
"Parents were also concerned about the lack of validation and concern they were receiving when they were doing all the right things by reaching out and seeking help for their children."
He could've been in jail a long time ago if everybody would've listened.
Scared and desperate, the missing boy's mother sought help at her local MLA's office on Sept. 5.
There, she met with a member of the Truro Police Service and reported that a man named Flip, who was likely Morgan MacDonald, was luring and providing drugs and alcohol to girls in town.
Truro Police Chief David MacNeil told CBC News that by this time, police knew MacDonald was in the community, but could not arrest him until they could confirm his location.
The boy's mother says she felt like her concerns were not taken seriously and that police were asking parents to do their job.
"He could've been in jail a long time ago if everybody would've listened."
Second mother says he threatened to return with a gun
Another woman told CBC News she had a similar experience with police.
Her home in downtown Truro had become a safe house for some of her son's friends, who were trying to break away from MacDonald. The identity of the woman is protected by a publication ban relating to the charges against MacDonald.
She said she went to the Colchester District RCMP detachment in Bible Hill several times to report information about MacDonald's whereabouts, but said she felt dismissed.
"There were some officers that didn't know who I was talking about," she said, when she brought up MacDonald's name.
"In my opinion they just had excuses that weren't flying with my assumptions of what RCMP should be. That's not just any police station. That's the major crime station. I thought that's the place to go but it certainly was not."
Anxiety hit its peak after MacDonald arrived at the woman's home on Aug. 20 looking for a 17-year-old boy, whom he was later charged with assaulting. Also present were two 14-year-old girls, who he was later charged with luring.
The woman says she told MacDonald to leave and he threatened to come back with a gun and said he would kill her and her children. The incident was reported to the Truro Police Service.
MacNeil says arresting MacDonald at that time was difficult. No one provided statements and people were vague on the suspect's name, calling him by a nickname and also an alias, he added.
The woman barricaded her home to protect her children, leaning a baseball bat and a sledgehammer near the front door. She stuck a chef's knife in the door jamb.
"I had to prepare for the worst and that was a bullet," she said.
The day after MacDonald turned up at the woman's home, the Parole Board of Canada notified the Truro police that MacDonald may be in the area, possibly at the Provincial Exhibition in Bible Hill.
MacNeil said he informed Colchester District RCMP because the exhibition grounds are their territory.
However, MacDonald remained at large for another month after that. Neither police agency notified the public to elicit help in finding him or warn people that a wanted man was in their midst.
RCMP say they did not issue a warning in Truro because there were already several posts online, pointing to a Saint John Police Force notification and a Facebook post from New Brunswick Crimestoppers in late June.
Both police agencies said they don't typically notify the public about persons wanted on arrest warrants, only offenders designated high-risk.
'They left me to believe I had to protect myself and the kids'
The woman who MacDonald allegedly threatened to kill feels like she was left on her own.
"The shocking part was going to the RCMP knowing that they're there to serve and protect, and trying to get them to serve and protect, especially after death threats," she said.
"I believed they could take control and they left me to believe I had to protect myself and the kids."
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said police did receive several pieces of information from concerned parents about MacDonald's location, some of which helped lead to his arrest on Sept. 23, 2019.
"All actionable information was followed up on," she said. "I can assure you that this was a very active investigation."
On the day of his arrest, police had MacDonald cornered inside a brick apartment building in Truro where he had been staying. They nabbed him, after a short struggle, in a vacant basement apartment.
MacDonald to appear in court in September
In January, MacDonald was charged for 31 crimes which include:
- Trafficking four children
- living off avails of sexual services
- procuring a child into prostitution
- advertising the sexual services of a child
- living off the proceeds of child prostitution
- luring four girls
- possessing child pornography
- threatening to kill at least three people
- assaulting three people
- breaking into apartments
- trafficking cocaine, ecstasy and tranquillizers to teenagers
MacDonald's next court appearance is Sept. 23 in Truro Provincial Court.
For support, contact the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking 833-900-1010, Nova Scotia Human Trafficking Team 902-449-2425 or Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers 800-222-8477 at www.crimestoppers.ns.ca.
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