Hundreds of Iowans gathered to honor some of Iowa’s missing children during a candlelight vigil service in Waterloo on Wednesday.
Des Moines Register
WATERLOO, Ia. — Elizabeth Collins would have turned 15 this week.
To celebrate, her family and friends sang a birthday song, ate cake and released lanterns and balloons Tuesday at Angels Park, a community healing project where the abandoned bikes of her and her cousin were found in July 2012. Months after finding the bikes, the bodies of the kidnapped girls were discovered in a wildlife area.
Now, more than six years later, Elizabeth’s mother, Heather, feels sick when she sees reports of missing children and young adults. She understands the anxiety their family and friends are experiencing.
“It’s like a club, an unwanted club,” she said in a shirt displaying the faces of Elizabeth and her cousin, Lyric Cook-Morrissey. “It’s still a nightmare every day that I wake up.”
Standing at a podium during a vigil Wednesday, with family members of missing people seated behind her, Heather Collins had a message: “We will bring these kids home.”
More than 200 people gathered at the RiverLoop Amphitheatre & Expo Plaza in Waterloo to show support for the families of Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who vanished two weeks ago, and Jake Wilson, an autistic teenager who disappeared in April from La Porte City.
Tibbetts’ cousin Morgan Collum, 27, called the turnout amazing and thanked the crowd for supporting her family. She described the last two weeks as difficult, saying when she looks in the mirror each morning, she thinks to herself, “How am I going to get through this day?”
Amanda Goodman, a former KWWL anchor who works as the executive director of Family & Children’s Council of Black Hawk County, said for more than 100 days, Jake’s family has wondered if he is hurt, hungry or scared.
Goodman said Jake’s family needs him home. She pointed at his mother, Megan Neiswonger, and told the crowd: “That is his mother right there; he is not a statistic.”
And then two weeks ago when Tibbetts vanished, “it was like a punch in the gut,” Goodman said. She described the region as shook by the disappearances.
“Today, we are the shocked neighbor,” Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said.
Family members of 14-year-old Kaiden Douglas Estling, of Maynard, also sat in front of the amphitheater. Estling was killed last month when he was struck on a moped by another vehicle; no one has been arrested in connection with the hit-and-run death.
The vigil was attended by police chiefs from the area and two state representatives.
Waterloo Police Chief Dan Trelka called on Iowans to be vigilant of their surroundings and to better know their neighbors, telling the crowd: “There is evil is lurking among us.” He promised those missing they would not be forgotten.
Trelka also had a message to predators of children: “We will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.”
Previous coverage on the search for Mollie Tibbetts:
Despite concern among some citizens, agents with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have said there was no evidence to suggest the missing person cases were connected.
State investigators have also said the number of missing juveniles reported in Iowa in recent weeks was in line with historical trends. The vast majority are found or returned home within 24 hours.
At the vigil, state Rep. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Waterloo, suggested upgrading the state’s Amber Alert system, which he called important but limited. While Iowans prides themselves on raising children, “we have to do better,” he said.
Tibbetts, 20, disappeared after running on the night of July 18 while dog-sitting at the home of her boyfriend and his brother on the western edge of Brooklyn, a city of about 1,500 residents in east-central Iowa. Her disappearance has gained national attention.
During a news conference Tuesday, state officials said investigators were continuing to follow up on all new leads they received but declined to comment on specific details. When asked whether it was likely Tibbetts had been abducted, one responded that authorities “don’t know where Mollie’s at right now.”
Poweshiek County Sheriff Thomas Kriegel said more than 200 leads had been followed up on that included ground, air and K-9 unit searches. As many as 40 investigators have worked on the case each day, he said.
“Everybody wants to find Mollie and, at this point, we’re doing everything we can to make that happen,” Kevin Winker, director of investigative operations at the Iowa Department of Public Safety, told reporters. “Our focus right now is to find Mollie.”
Poweshiek County Sheriff Tom Kriegel talks about the search for Brooklyn, Iowa’s Mollie Tibbetts.
Kelsey Kremer, firstname.lastname@example.org
There have been few updates on the search for Jake. In an interview before Wednesday’s vigil, La Porte City Police Chief Chris Brecher said authorities have received a number of reported sightings of the teenager in other states, none of which turned out to be him.
Those tips have been coming in from states farther than usual since the A&E Network television series “Live PD” featured Jake’s disappearance in June. The show has since highlighted information about Mollie’s case.
Previous coverage on the search for Jake Wilson:
Jake, 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds, was last seen April 7 going for a walk to Wolf Creek, which runs through La Porte City. The outgoing nature-lover left without his glasses and was wearing a brown zip-up hooded sweatshirt, dark pants and cowboy boots.
Police in the community of about 2,200 people used an array of techniques and machinery to clear the creek, which officials had described as their “main culprit.”
They sent dive teams in the creek; used a helicopter from the Iowa National Guard, hovering above in the hopes of moving objects under the water; they called on the public to raise money for an excavator to pull logs and large trees out of the water.
The teenager’s parents “still have an optimism that Jake is out there,” Brecher said. After the vigil, his mother walked with Goodman to a railing near the Cedar River, releasing a white balloon into the sky.
Years later, no one has been arrested in the killings of 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year-old Lyric Cook.
When the girls disappeared, thousands of volunteers searched for them as people across the country called in tips, claiming to have spotted them. Their bodies were found about 20 miles northeast of Evansdale, a 5,000-person town outside Waterloo, in a remote area of the Seven Bridges Wildlife Area.
Heather Collins brought a map to the vigil that pinpointed where people had been reported missing since mid-July throughout the state. Most were teenagers, and while some were runaways, they were still missed by their families, she said.
Drew Collins, Elizabeth’s father, gave $9,000 raised during an annual bike ride to honor the cousins to the Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers and another $9,000 to Angels Park.
“I don’t want to see this happen to anyone else,” Collins said, adding he believed whoever killed his daughter and niece would “have to answer to God.”
“Amazing Grace” played as those gathered lit candles, some people teared up. Talking about Tibbetts and Jake, Goodman told the group they were “lighting their way home.”
How to contact law enforcement
Authorities are asking anyone with information about Mollie Tibbetts to contact the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office at 641-623-5679 or email@example.com.
Police are asking anyone with information about Jake Wilson to call 319-342-2232. The FBI created a website, www.fbi.gov/laportecityiowa, where people can upload photos or videos taken in La Porte City on the day he went missing.
Anyone with information about the hit-and-run death of Kaiden Douglas Estling has been asked to call the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office at 563-422-3234.
Evansdale police have asked anyone with information about the killing of the cousins Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook call them at 319-232-6682.
Read or Share this story: https://dmreg.co/2v9m1TB