EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — Police believe that "runaway" Chyenne Kircher might have never actually left home at all.
Her stepfather, Terry Abbas, 40, of East Dubuque, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of killing the then-14-year-old in October 2011. Dozens of officers from multiple law enforcement agencies spent Thursday scouring the area around the family's home for evidence.
"We have reason to believe that her body is located at a location right in town by her home," said Dave Hachmeister, chief deputy with the Jo Daviess County Sheriff's Department. "We are at this point doing some excavation with Illinois State Police and FBI evidence technicians."
According to court documents, Abbas used his hand to strangle Kircher on or around Oct. 13, 2011, the date she was reported missing. Both murder charges are related to Kircher's death, Hachmeister said.
Abbas is being held in Jo Daviess County on a $1 million bond. Right now, he is the focus of the investigation into Kircher's death, police said.
Police did not comment on a possible motive.
Police with dogs searched the family's home, then shared by Abbas, Kircher, her brother and her mother, Lori Lyons, and the surrounding wooded area when the disappearance was first reported, but the case consistently has been treated as a missing-person investigation. Even as recently as June of this year, authorities said no indication of foul play had been discovered.
"We had no information that it was anything other than a runaway," Hachmeister said.
A note left behind seemed to support the theory, with Kircher allegedly writing, "Don't look for me because I don't want to be found." Police initially said she was last seen walking toward a friend's house.
But Hachmeister said Thursday the information about Kircher's last-known whereabouts was provided by Abbas. Hachmeister would not confirm the authenticity of the note, citing the ongoing investigation, but he said that it is "accounted for."
The Jo Daviess County Critical Incident Response Team took over the case about six months ago at the request of the East Dubuque Police. The team, which includes officers from multiple county law enforcement agencies and the state police, came in with "fresh eyes," Hachmeister said.
"We had an open mind from the beginning," he said. "We didn't treat it as merely a runaway from the very beginning. We had fresh eyes looking at it, looking at all aspects of what had taken place."
Hachmeister declined to comment on the details, but he said
Abbas did not turn himself in and that the arrest was the result of the CIRT investigation.
The search is being concentrated on a wooded area behind the home, where Abbas and Lyons still live. Calls to a phone number for Lyons seeking comment on the case went unanswered Thursday.
FBI agent Andrea Dobranski said the excavation process used to recover the body is rather time-consuming and labor-intensive.
"Part of the reason it's taking so long is because it's very methodical, painstaking work," she said. "We want to make sure that we do it thoroughly, properly and cover all of our policies and procedures.
"These things can take a lot of time to do them right."
More information is expected to be released at a press conference at 8 a.m. today.
Kircher's disappearance rocked the small community. In the weeks and months following Kircher's disappearance, family members and friends publicly pleaded for information about her whereabouts.
Students at East Dubuque High School, where Kircher was in ninth grade at the time she went missing, organized a balloon release at the end of the 2012 school year in her honor. The 200-plus yellow balloons symbolized hope for missing children, classmates said at the time
For East Dubuque resident Kathy Accola, Thursday's news was sickening. Had she not vanished, Kircher would be a junior in high school alongside Accola's youngest son.
"It just makes us all sick," Accola said. "There's just no words to explain how we all feel."
Though Abbas' arrest will likely bring some closure, Accola said, the entire community will be in mourning.
"Chyenne was part of everybody's life," Accola said. "She was just a very social little girl. Everybody reached out to her, and she reached out to everybody."