Doctoral Student Killed After Checking on Dog During July 4 Fireworks, Police Now Searching for His Boyfriend

Boyfriend Person of Interest
Deundray Cottrell, left, died by homicide, a coroner ruled. His missing boyfriend, Julian Morris, has been named by police as a person of interest.Birmingham Police Department

Doctoral student Deundray Cottrell was last seen alive July 4, when he went to check on his dog while fireworks were going off. He never returned. His body was later found in a shed. Police say his missing boyfriend is a person of interest.

Deundray Cottrell was last seen by his family on the night of July 4, when he climbed the stairs of his sister's Alabama home to check on his dog while fireworks blasted outside.

The 31-year-old doctoral student never came back.

Two days later, his body was found in a shed behind an abandoned house just a few doors down, police said. A coroner ruled Sunday his cause of death was homicide.

Now, authorities are searching for Cottrell's boyfriend, Julian Morris, who has been named a person of interest in the killing, police said. 

“We need to speak to him as soon as possible... If you locate him, if you see him, please call 911,” Birmingham Police spokesman Truman Fitzgerald said at a Saturday press conference. Morris, who is pictured above, is 31 years old and weighs 160 pounds, Fitzgerald said.

That search is continuing, authorities said. 

“He went and checked on the dog and I never saw him again,’’ Cottrell's sister, Angelica Harris, told after her brother's body was found by police and volunteer searchers on Saturday.

Her brother and his boyfriend arrived in Alabama on July 4 to celebrate the holiday with her family, Harris said. Cottrell, who lived in Atlanta, was studying for his graduate degree and worked in marketing, his family said.

His relatives said Morris was acting strangely the night his boyfriend disappeared.

Morris had told the family that Cottrell came upstairs, and then jumped from his sister's patio and took off running, his sister said. While worried relatives began searching for Cottrell, his boyfriend fixed himself a plate of food and sat down to eat, Cottrell's sister told WSB-TV.

“While we looked, Julian didn’t,” she said. “At one point, when everybody was searching, Julian ... was  sitting there eating, and he looked at me and said 'Oh my gosh, the food is so good,'" the sister said. 

Security footage from neighbors' cameras showed Cottrell running through backyards the night he disappeared, and at one point, he is seen jumping a fence, his family said.

“It looked like he was looking for refuge,’’ his sister said. “He was running for his life.”

Authorities have not said how Cottrell was killed, or whether a weapon was involved.

Anyone with information about Morris' whereabouts is asked to call Birmingham Police at 205-254-1764 or CrimeStoppers at 205-254-7777.

There is a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Related Stories