Family members, police still urgently searching for missing Iowa girls

Lyric Cook-Morrissey, Elizabeth Collins missing since July 13

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Published: August 22 2012 | 10:14 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 11:20 pm in
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On a recent Wednesday afternoon, as the case of two missing cousins entered its third week, officers descended on an Elk Run Heights home.

Marked sheriff’s office squad cars pulled up with two nondescript passenger cars in tow. Uniformed deputies took up positions around the house. Plainclothes detectives and FBI agents knocked at the door.

They talked with the resident and checked in an old camping trailer in the backyard.

Then the lawmen left. The whole episode took about 45 minutes.

No trace of Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, of Waterloo, and Elizabeth Collins, 9, of Evansdale was found.

The nationwide hunt for the cousins, whom police believe were abducted on July 13, continues.

Searches don’t happen every day. Organized search parties with hundreds of people no longer comb the countryside. Police aren’t out in force checking cars at intersections. The national media is no longer camped out in town.

But law enforcement officials want to reassure the public that everything that can be done is being done to find the girls. Tips continue to come in, and leads are thoroughly investigated — some multiple times.

“It’s still our top priority, and we’re using all resources available to find the girls,” said Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock on Tuesday. “It’s easy to see why some people get frustrated not seeing action ... but there’s plenty being done behind the scenes.”

Smock said investigators are reviewing evidence and statements and chasing new leads. Contacts are being made, records scoured and research done.

Searches are conducted when warranted.

A trained team recently scoured a wooded area along Elk Run Creek in town based on a tip authorities thought could lead to the girls. Again, nothing panned out.

“We’ll leave no stone left unturned. There’s no reason to believe a resolution to the case won’t happen to bring the girls back,” Smock said. He also clarified FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breault’s July 21 statement that “We believe the girls are alive.” Smock said investigators have no information to prove or disprove they are alive.

Investigation continues

Lyric and Elizabeth were last seen by their grandmother, Wylma Cook, riding their bikes near downtown at about 12:15 p.m. on July 13. The girls’ bikes and Elizabeth’s purse were found on the southeast corner of Meyers Lake at about 4 p.m. that day, but no clue to their whereabouts.

Almost six weeks later, the magnitude of the search has been scaled back as tips and leads have curtailed, but the intensity remains.

Investigators left Poyner Elementary School to make way for the start of the school year and set up shop in the city’s combined police and fire station. Smock said 100 to 150 investigators and support personnel once worked the case around the clock — compared to 15 to 20 now.

The FBI’s large mobile command center truck is nowhere in sight, but a few agents remain. Six or seven investigators from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation continue to work the case with local police officers.

Days after the disappearance, Smock said, tips poured in at a rate of 20 per hour. About 30 to 50 a day are received now.

Some come from psychics, Smock said. Others are reports of suspicious activity, clothing and memories of things people saw around the time the girls vanished.

Sharis Paulson, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, encourages people to call the tipline — (319) 232-6682 — with any relevant information.

“Some people are hesitant because they think it’s minor. You don’t know that it could be the missing piece we’re looking for,” Paulson said.

The DCI’s booth at the Iowa State Fair featured information about the girls. Almost 1 million people attended the 11-day event, which ended Sunday.

Paulson said it was a great opportunity to keep the case in the public eye. Five tips were received at the fair.

“A lot of people stopped by to review information and ask questions. I thought it was very successful,” Paulson said.

The mothers

Heather Collins, Elizabeth’s mom, was a regular at the booth in the Hall of Law in the grandstand, Paulson said. She wanted the pictures of the girls seen as much as possible.

Collins also collected signatures for a petition to urge Iowa lawmakers to pass a law to change how Amber Alerts are issued. Called the Cousins Law, it’s designed to get news out of missing persons within the first couple of hours.

“I pray every morning and all through the day, just, ‘Lord, five me strength to keep going and keep moving on,’” Collins told a television station at the fair.

Family members of the girls this week reached out to one of the nation’s most well-known advocates for missing children and crime fighters for help.

Misty Morrissey, Lyric’s mother and Heather’s sister, with the help of her sister Tammy Brousseau, sent a message to John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted” on the Lifetime channel. Walsh’s only son, Adam, was kidnapped and murdered in 1981, and he dedicated his life toward bringing criminals to justice and finding missing children.

According to the message posted on Misty Morrissey’s Facebook account, she begged Walsh to “step in” and contact her.

“I am in my darkest hour and close to the edge!” the message said.

Attempts to reach Misty for comment were unsuccessful. According to Waterloo Police, she was taken to Allen Hospital Monday evening after she was found unresponsive at a relative’s home.

Police acting on a tip found Morrissey sleeping and were unable to wake her. Family members told officers she had been at the hospital earlier in the day and been heavily medicated and later drank alcohol, the report states.

Wylma Cook declined to comment about her daughter Tuesday, but confirmed Morrissey and Brousseau attempted to contact Walsh. They want Walsh to feature the cousins on a show.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can. ... We’re not sure what else to do,” Cook said.

The Courier sent an interview request to Walsh and show officials. There was no response at press time.

Smock said show producers contacted the Evansdale Police Department within a week of the disappearance for pictures and information. He said they want a suspect to focus on.

‘Frustrating’

Investigators are paying close attention to reports of attempted child abductions statewide and nationally, Smock said, including anything involving vans of any color. Reports of white vans in particular have surfaced in several towns, including Cedar Rapids.

Police questioned a man driving a white Chevy Astro van in Evansdale the day the girls vanished, but there was no connection.

“We’re looking at everything. There’s nothing concrete,” Smock said.

Anyone recently arrested for sexual abuse or enticement of a minor is also being looked at, Smock said. All family members were investigated as well.

Cook said the disappearance is hard on the entire family, including hurtful misinformation being spread about some members. On Tuesday, Cook said reports that her son, Jeremiah, attempted suicide or overdosed in late July weren’t true. He was hospitalized for a heart problem, a blocked artery that required a stent, she said.

Cook said she worries constantly about her granddaughters.

“It’s so hard on me,” Cook said. “The kids haven’t been found. ... It’s getting very frustrating.”

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