EVANSDALE, Iowa --- Hours after authorities announced a devastating find potentially linked to the missing cousins case, community members gathered in somber remembrance.
About 80 friends, neighbors and strangers huddle on the banks of Meyers Lake earlier tonight --- a place synonymous with the girls’ disappearance since they vanished while riding bikes in town. The girls' bicycles were found at the lake July 13, the day they went missing.
Many at Wednesday's vigil gazed silently across the dark body of water. Several women tried to light candles inside plastic cups and protected the flame from chilling winds by covering the opening with cold hands.
“We shouldn't be here. These were just innocent children,” said Barb Collins of Waterloo. “These girls should have been left alone to start with. They should be home safe in their beds.”
UPDATE: Two bodies found by hunters Wednesday afternoon may be those of missing cousins Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, police said.
Black Hawk County Chief Deputy Rick Abben didn't say the bodies found in an undisclosed "wooded area" are the two girls, but hinted the discovery may be the ending feared by thousands in Iowa and beyond.
"It's definitely not the outcome that we wanted, obviously," Abben said, appearing to fight back tears during a news conference in Evansdale. "This is a difficult thing for us to go through. It's a difficult thing for the community."
Abben said the remains have been taken to the state Medical Examiner's office in Ankeny for positive identification. He said a press conference will be held Thursday afternoon to announce the results of that effort.
Abben declined to say where the bodies were found, noting "preserving the scene is paramount."
Jennifer Lancaster, Department of Natural Resources law enforcement supervisor for northeast Iowa, said DNR conservation officers have been involved with the recovery, but they, like all involved officers from all agencies, have been instructed not to comment on the specific location, which is being investigated as a crime scene.
Lancaster said the odds of finding missing persons’ remains – or evidence of other crimes -- increase during the shotgun deer season, when more than 70,000 hunters comb through remote woods and fields.
More Iowans are afield during the two shotgun deer seasons (Dec. 1-5 and Dec.8-16) than at any other time of the year, she said.
The images of the two girls' smiling faces became a familiar, unsettling sight across Iowa on billboards, posters, bumper stickers, and even Halloween candy in the months after they went missing the afternoon of July 13, a Friday.
The girls were last seen around noon near downtown Evansdale. Their bicycles and Elizabeth's cellphone were found along a trail on the southeast corner of Meyers Lake, in a city park just north of Interstate 380.
Evansdale Police and Fire Chief Kent Smock said investigators viewed the girls' disappearance as a missing-person case but didn't rule out the possibility of an abduction.
Hundreds of volunteers helped police search parks, ponds, and wooded areas near town over the first weekend the girls were missing.
On July 16, the Monday after the girls went missing, authorities began draining 5-acre Meyers Lake, while Black Hawk County Chief Deputy Rick Abben admitted investigators "grasping for straws."
No bodies or other evidence were found in the lake.
"It wouldn't be proper for me to stand here and tell you we have a theory because we don't," Abben told reporters. "We have two missing girls, and we have no idea why."
By July 19, Lyric's parents had consulted an attorney because they felt they were being treated as suspects, according to another family member.
Dan Morrissey has three drug convictions, including possession of marijuana and ingredients to make methamphetamine. He was also charged with domestic abuse causing bodily injury in August 2011, with trials on the charges set as early as August.
Those trials were postponed in late July.
Misty Morrissey, 34, pleaded guilty in 2003 in federal court to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine. She also has theft and alcohol violations in state court. In September 2011, her probation was revoked for violating its terms -- including use of illegal drugs, excessive use of alcohol and failure to comply with drug tests -- and is now on supervised release.
The case was officially reclassified from missing persons to an abduction July 20, the same day a judge granted prosecutors' request to place Daniel Morrissey under pretrial supervision while he awaits trial on drug charges. Morrissey, who had been free on bond, will be supervised by parole officers.
Daniel Morrissey's mother-in-law Wylma Cook said he had been giving investigators information on other methamphetamine makers in recent months to shave time off his own possible sentence. She said Morrissey had been expected to accept a plea agreement July 12, the day before the girls vanished, but decided not to do so because he was not ready to go jail.