Seeking to tamp down a torrent of criticism, the Iowa State Fair said Tuesday that police will display information about two missing Iowa cousins and accept tips about their whereabouts during the 11-day event.
The fair faced intense criticism on its Facebook page Monday and Tuesday after it turned down a request from volunteers who wanted to set up a booth to give out information about 10-year-old Lyric Cook and 9-year-old Elizabeth Collins. The girls have been missing since July 13, when they when for a bike ride in Evansdale.
Fair spokeswoman Lori Chappell said the request was denied because the deadline had passed to apply to rent a booth and all 700 had been reserved. She said that the fair's policy only allows groups that have booths to distribute information on the grounds, which is why volunteers also were told they couldn't hand out fliers or hang posters about the girls.
But Chappell said the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation had already been planning for weeks to display a poster of information about the girls and have a lockbox to receive tips at its booth. The fair begins Thursday in Des Moines and runs through Aug. 19.
"Certainly these girls are not being forgotten and will have exposure at the fair, and through the proper agencies," she said. "I think we all want to help, but you need to go through those channels to get the proper information."
Gary McGowan, who runs a Facebook group page dedicated to the search for the girls, was among the many critics to let his feelings known. In an interview Tuesday morning, he said the fair was doing the wrong thing by rejecting the volunteers' request for a booth and "putting a price tag on the children of Iowa's lives."Chappell chalked up the criticism to the fast-moving world of social media, when people were commenting without knowing all the facts. She added that the fair employee who denied the request for a booth probably did not realize the nature of the request.