Autopsy confirms bodies found are missing cousins

2012-12-10T14:15:00Z 2012-12-30T21:19:13Z Autopsy confirms bodies found are missing cousinsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
December 10, 2012 2:15 pm  • 

EVANSDALE, Iowa — Evansdale police say an autopsy has confirmed that two bodies found last week in a wildlife area are those of Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook.

Police Chief Kent Smock says he received confirmation Monday from the Iowa State Medical Examiner's Office that the bodies were the two cousins, who had been missing since July 13. The full autopsy hasn't been released to police.

Elizabeth was 8 and Lyric was 10 when they went for a bike ride in the northeastern Iowa community and didn't return.

Hunters found their bodies last week in the Seven Bridges Wildlife Area in Bremer County, about 25 miles from where they were last seen.

Authorities closed the park while they searched for evidence connected to the case but now have reopened the area.

Push for 'Cousins Law' grows

Waterloo Courier at 10 a.m.

EVANSDALE, Iowa — The discovery of two bodies believed to be those of missing cousins Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins on Wednesday has renewed interest in Iowa’s missing persons notification system.

As Gov. Terry Branstad expressed sympathy for families of the girls, he said the state will take a look at what can be done differently when children disappear.

“We’ll review our laws and see if there’s more that we can do to be as effective as possible,” Branstad said, alluding to changes in laws adopted after the abduction of 12-year-old West Des Moines newspaper carrier Johnny Gosch in 1982.

The comments came as signatures for the proposed “Cousins Law” — which would require certain steps be taken at different points in an investigation — passed 10,500 signatures.

Sen. Jeff Danielson said he will introduce legislation similar to the Cousins Law proposal when legislators begin their 2013 session in January.

“We think there are opportunities with social media and other formal networks of communications in law enforcement that we can certainly improve the ability for the public to know what’s going on and how to help,” Danielson said.

In an interview hours before Wednesday’s discovery, Elizabeth’s mother, Heather Collins, said she supported a change because of what she saw as shortcomings in the criteria for Amber Alerts.

“We do need to have something different,” Heather Collins said. “When a child is missing, you shouldn’t need a car or a suspect.”

Under the Amber Alert system, law enforcement needs specific details — for instance a suspect description, a vehicle or a license plate — in order to activate the notification.

Because authorities had nothing more than the descriptions of Lyric and Elizabeth, an Amber Alert wasn’t issued when the cousins disappeared.

Police did activate an automated system that called phones in the area where the girls were last seen within an hour and 50 minutes of learning of the disappearance, according to a timeline provided by authorities.

The Cousins Law proposal would require authorities to use the existing “A Child Is Missing” system, run by a Florida organization that places phone calls containing descriptions of missing children to homes and businesses near the disappearance. After two hours, the Cousins proposal calls for voluntary vehicle and home searches, and at the three-hour mark, there would be an Amber Alert-like notification that would include interstate marquees.

Robin Arnold of Cedar Falls, who wrote the proposal and gathered signatures, envisions fines for not following the protocol.

Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock said he welcomes any improvements and is open to having new tools available to authorities, but he cautioned against mandates.

“By mandating certain things that have to be done, they are essentially handcuffing law enforcement from doing other, possibly more productive, investigations in the disappearance,” Smock said.

For instance, setting up checkpoints at a certain time, especially for a small department, may draw manpower away from chasing other leads, he said.

Smock said he wasn’t familiar with A Child is Missing when the cousins disappeared July 13, but he did ask Black Hawk County’s Emergency Management Agency to activate a similar telephone notification using the Everbridge system.

That started at 4:40 p.m. July 13, about an hour and 50 minutes after police were notified of the disappearance, according to the timeline.

Lorie Glover, the county emergency management coordinator, said the Everbridge alert went to landline phones in a half-mile radius of where the girls were seen. The distance was determined by police, and the phone numbers were drawn from the dispatch center’s 911 database.

It was the first time the Everbridge system was activated for an emergency in Black Hawk County. The county switched to Everbridge July 1 after having used an outfit called CodeRED since 2009.

At 4:30 p.m., the cousins’ names were entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, a law enforcement database, and at 8:30 p.m., the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children began faxing and emailing photos and description of the cousins to truck stops, stores and other locations within 100 miles.

The timeline shows police were considering abduction as a possibility early on. Interviews with sex offenders started at 7 p.m. the day of disappearance and continued for days, and what became a nightly survey of trash bins began Saturday.

“We weren’t leaving any stone unturned,” Smock said. “We didn’t take anything off the plate.”

Investigators also examined the phones and computers of family members and checked homes. Smock said this was because statistics on child disappearances show the child often is with a family member or someone they know.

As for the vehicle searches, the Cousins Law proposes they be voluntary, and Danielson said nothing he will introduce will infringe on constitutional rights.

Vehicle checkpoints were used during the search for Lyric and Elizabeth on July 17 and July 20. Smock said they weren’t searches and weren’t random but, instead, targeted specific times and locations where the girls were seen. They were conducted to jog the memories of motorists who may have been out and about in the areas where the girls had been about the time they would have passed through, Smock said.

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(4) Comments

  1. coloradojim
    Report Abuse
    coloradojim - December 10, 2012 6:48 pm
    Well stated.

    I would comply with all reasonable requests.

    However, my home is my castle. Do not cross that line unless you have compelling evidence to support the need for a search.

    It's all about freedom. It's all that I have left in this world.

    My condolences to the families of these young girls.
  2. Klaatu
    Report Abuse
    Klaatu - December 10, 2012 4:46 pm
    The Cousins Law is a lousy band-aid approach to a much more serious societal issue. Destroying what little bit of privacy and protection we have left is a lousy idea. Anything seen in a "voluntary" search could be used to obtain a warrant even if it was unrelated to the matter at hand. How about if we start executing people who prey on our kids? We once had a society where this stuff was rare. That was back when we promptly flipped the switch on murderers and rapists. See any correlation?
  3. TruthOnlyBeTold
    Report Abuse
    TruthOnlyBeTold - December 10, 2012 1:54 pm
    I agree with Weltonian....While I agree with Heather Collins that an broad based alert system should not require a vehicle or suspect description to be activated, I do not think voluntary vehicle and home searches would be beneficial for the search. Obviously, any person that denies authorities of a search of their home or to look into the trunk of their car is going to automatically become suspect, even though they have absolutely nothing to do with the crime. With this proposal, you would have authorities having doubt about perfectly innocent people that may say no to a search, which I think would be nothing more than a distraction for authorities, of the goal, which is to find the missing kids. Personally, I am anything but a crusader for privacy laws, but the idea that if a child went missing and I just happened to live within a certain radius, to have someone knock on my door to ask if they can search my home, knowing full well that if I refuse I will go on to some secret "list"....is just appalling. I mean, if I allow the search, then I would feel invaded, powerless, embarrassed if they see how sloppy I am... and if I tell them they would be wasting their time to search my home, then I go on to a secret "list"....

    I am truly sorry for these two little girls and their families and I hope they catch the person(s) responsible and apply liberal amounts of punishment for this crime, but this proposal, as given in this article, is not a good idea.
  4. Weltonian
    Report Abuse
    Weltonian - December 10, 2012 11:02 am
    Voluntary vehicle or home searches? What the heck? BS, that is ridiculous. Do people unknowingly have random kids around the house, really? That idea reeks of guilty until proven innocent, aside from a giant waste investigators' of time. Interviewing people within an area makes sense. Searching property fishing for info, absolutely does not.

    But the girls were found in a home? Oops, no they were found in a park, so this law would've helped, how again?

    Little Susie is missing, open your cell, er front doors for inspection! Do you have something to hide, citizen?
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