Family of Missing Cousins Attend Preventing Abuse Conference
By Mike Wiser, Reporter
DES MOINES, Iowa - For three months, Drew and Heather Collins have hoped, pleaded and prayed for the safe return of their daughter, Elizabeth Collins, and niece, Lyric Cook.
Friday was no different, except the couple was now in a conference room of a Des Moines hotel, listening to a Los Angeles Police detective sergeant talk about the connection between drug use and missing children.
“This is ground zero for what’s going on,” Drew said, explaining why he, Heather and other members of their family made the trip to Des Moines to talk about their tragedy at the “Preventing Abuse” conference put on by the California-based Cedars Cultural and Educational Foundation. “A lot of people need to hear what’s being said here.”
Two days ago, authorities began another canvass of the area where Collins and Cook were last seen on July 13 during a bike ride in Evansdale. Heather says she believes her daughter and niece are alive.
The conference itself was a mix of the stuff of parental nightmares — child abduction, sex slavery and drug abuse — and evangelicalism.
Presenter Tania Fiolleau, a former prostitute and madam, for example, talked of the “vacant eyes” of the women who would work at her brothel and of losing her children and home. Then she found God.
“God doesn’t care how many Sundays we go to church or how many good deeds we do,” Fiolleau said as she wrapped up her story. “He cares how many souls we are taking with us to Heaven.”
The crowd of about 300 applauded.
Practical advice — talk to your children about strangers, schools need to monitor who is coming and going, report suspicious activity — was intermingled with the spiritual.
The foundation was started by Tony Nassif, a Cedar Rapids native who has lived in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years.
“There is a total perspective with this issue, you cannot disassociate the spiritual dynamic to this,” Nassif said. “The church is a major element in helping stem the tide of this problem because they are a large grassroots organization.”
Friday’s conference was Nassif’s first in Des Moines and 10th since his nonprofit organization opened. The foundation’s mission is “To educate the public of the need to fulfill our civic responsibilities according to traditional biblical moral absolutes and to bridge cultural barriers.”
Nassif said the goal of the conference is to inspire people to share what they learn with their families, friends and churches and to get religious organizations involved in spreading information to their members on what they can do to recognize and work against people who harm children.
It’s a message that rings true for Heather, who wore a crucifix necklace to the conference, and said she prays every day for the girls and those involved in their disappearance.
“All we have right now is God to lean on,” Drew said. “What we have is our faith, and that’s it. If I didn’t have that, I’d be at home in bed right now, because you can’t get up and face the day when something like that happens without that.”
What's On KCRG