Sunday 7AM Update: Authorities, Volunteers to Resume Search for Missing Girls

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

EVANSDALE, Iowa - Hundreds of volunteers and emergency workers will resume the search this morning for two missing girls, though the mother of one child fears the cousins were abducted.

Misty Cook-Morrissey on Saturday morning said it's out of character for her daughter, Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, to wander too far away from home. Lyric often stays at the home of her 8-year-old cousin, Elizabeth Collins, in Evansdale while Misty Cook-Morrissey is at work.

"I think they were taken," Misty said. "They usually don't go that far away."

In the care of their grandmother, Wylma Cook, the girls went bike riding Friday morning as they often do. They were last seen at about 12:15 p.m. Friday in downtown Evansdale behind Lederman's Big & Tall Clothing, 3524 Lafayette Road.

When the cousins didn't return to the Collins home by 2 p.m. Friday, the family started to search for the girls to no avail. They called police about an hour later.

An extensive ground, air and water search by police, firefighters and volunteers immediately commenced around Meyers Lake.

The girls' bikes were located along the bike trail on the southeast corner of Meyers Lake by an Evansdale firefighter at about 4 p.m. Friday. There was no trace of the youngsters, law enforcement officials said. Elizabeth's purse, which contained a cell phone, was found nearby, family said.

Heather Collins, Elizabeth's mother and Misty Cook-Morrissey's sister, also said it is not like her daughter to stray far from home. The mothers said their daughters are close and spend a lot of time together.

"They (usually) never leave the block," said Heather Collins, who lives at 166 Brovan Blvd.

Emergency personnel in boats dragged the bottom of Meyers Lake on Friday until nightfall. Divers searched as well. Police did a door-to-door search Friday, and all wooded areas in the city were combed through the night. Aircraft searched from above using infrared sensors.

More than 150 volunteers and emergency personnel gathered at the Evansdale Community Response Center at about 8 a.m. Saturday to resume the search. By mid-afternoon, the search party swelled to about 400.

"I'm so glad these people are here," Misty Cook-Morrissey said. "I do think everything is being done that can be. We'll continue to pray; we believe and we wait for God (to help)."

The search area was expanded Saturday beyond Meyers Lake and the surrounding wooded areas. Emergency workers and volunteers combed Deerwood Park, nearby corn fields and the banks of the Cedar River. Coordinators spent Saturday morning contacting private property owners to get permission to enter their land, and asking them to search as well.

Special K-9 search and rescue units joined the effort. Waterloo Fire Rescue and others used boats on the Cedar as well.

The ground effort was suspended at 6 p.m. Saturday, though emergency personnel continued to search the water of Meyers Lake until dark. A candlelight vigil was held at the lake Saturday night.

"So far we've came up empty," said Evansdale Police and Fire Chief Kent Smock.

At this point, Smock said, it's a missing-persons case. He's not ready to call it an abduction but isn't ruling out the possibility.

"We're concerned, absolutely, because of the length of time. We know it's out-of-character for these girls (to wander off)," Smock said.

"Because we don't know what happened and it's been hours since we've last seen them, we're not taking this lightly," he added. "We'll be very diligent until we find them."

The ground search will resume today at 8 a.m. Volunteers 18 years old or older are asked to meet at the Community Response Center at 911 S. Evans Road. All areas already covered will be combed again. Authorities said the search will expand as needed.

"Time is our enemy right now," said Evansdale firefighter Marcus Norman, who helped direct volunteers to search areas. "We need foot soldiers side-by-side. We need to cover ground."

Family members said their faith in God is getting them through these trying times.

"It's pretty bad, but we're people of faith. We rest in the power of Christ," Misty Cook-Morrissey said.

"We're holding up OK. We don't have a clue why this happened," said Drew Collins, Elizabeth's father.

Prior to the search Saturday, the Collins and Morrissey families asked searchers to pray for the safe return of their children. The Rev. Lisa Kruse led the brief prayer service.

"Where these two girls are, you're already with these girls. ... Help guide us in the right direction," she said.

Sitting on an all-terrain vehicle taking a quick break, Dan Morrissey, Lyric's father, is grateful for the outpouring of support. Donations of food, sport drinks and water arrived at the Community Response Center almost nonstop Saturday to keep searchers fed and hydrated. Everything from pizza to cold meat sandwiches and chips were available.

"A lot of people want to do more. The community response is outstanding," Dan Morrissey said. "I don't know how I would do it without God."

Former Evansdale volunteer firefighter Billy Fischels joined the search effort a 3 a.m. Saturday morning after getting off work. With young children of his own, he said, it's his duty to help other parents out in time of need.

"It's unimaginable," Fischels said. "We don't want this to happen to any kids. My heart go out to the families."

Fischels considers the search his new "full-time" job and will continue to help until the girls are found.

That sentiment rang true from volunteer after volunteer.

"I think about my kids, that's why I'm out here," Zach Engbrecht of Cedar Falls said after emerging from a dense corn field across from Deerwood Park late Saturday morning. "I can't imagine my kids missing; I would want everyone out looking."

Smock said he was asked why an Amber Alert wasn't issued for the missing girls. He said there is not enough information to give out and not all criteria for an alert was met.

There needs to be more evidence of an abduction and usually a description of a vehicle to issue an alert, Smock said, so motorists can be on the lookout.

"We have no reason to believe the children left Evansdale," he said.

Some tips have been received on the Tip Line, (319) 232-6682, authorities said. Those are being followed up by law enforcement.

An anonymous person has offered a $5,000 reward that leads to information that results in Lyric and Elizabeth being located.

Capt. Rick Abben, chief deputy with the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office, said there is no indication of foul play in the disappearance.

"There's no witnesses and nothing of evidentiary value," he said. "We'll continue to (search) until they're located or something else develops."

Law enforcement officers urge all residents to be on the lookout for the missing youths.

Elizabeth, who attends Poyner Elementary in Evansdale, is 4 feet 1 inches tall, 80 pounds with brownish/blonde hair. She was last seen wearing a white shirt, shorts and black tennis shoes or high tops.

Lyric, who attends Kingsley Elementary in Waterloo, is about 4 feet 11 inches tall and 145 pounds. She was last seen wearing a green shirt and black flip flops that, when together, form a Sesame Street character.

The search for the two Cedar Valley youths comes not long after the seventh anniversary of the death of five-year-old Evelyn Miller of Floyd. Miller disappeared from her home and was missing for six days. She was found dead in the Cedar River. Her killer remains at large.

Smock prays for a different outcome for the local missing girls.

"We don't want people to panic. We're treating this as a disappearance, and we don't know why or how," he said.

The investigation is being conducted by the Evansdale police and fire departments. Abben said the cooperation between local, state and federal agencies has been phenomenal.

"We're all working together. When you have this many people, you need this type of cooperation," he said.

Evansdale is being assisted by Waterloo Police, Waterloo Fire Rescue, the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Department, Iowa State Patrol, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been contacted and a representative is aiding in the search.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the missing girls or who has seen these two girls is asked to call the Evansdale Police Department at 232-6682 or the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office at 319-291-2515.
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