Drew Collins’ message to daughter’s killer: ‘We’re coming for you’
EVANSDALE, Iowa (KCRG) - “A very sweet, sweet little girl.”
During a recent warm afternoon, Drew Collins shared his memories of his daughter Elizabeth while sitting at the park built to honor her.
“She was just really bubbly. Laughing all the time. A very, very good sister. She wanted her little sisters wherever she was. She’s just a really good kid. A really good sense of humor. Loved animals. Just loved everyone.”
He described eight-year-old Elizabeth’s relationship with her cousin Lyric, 10, as that of a sibling.
“Her and Lyric were like sisters . . . We had Lyric for a while and Wilma had Lyric for a while. So they were just always together.”
The girls were together when they left the Collins’ family home for a bike ride on July 13, 2012. They never came home.
A decade after the girls’ abduction and murders, Drew Collins wants the person - or people - responsible to know that he’s not giving up on finding them.
FULL COVERAGE: Lyric & Elizabeth: Ten Years Later
July 13, 2012
The morning of the girls’ disappearance, Drew said he woke up early to begin his work day. He owns a tree service business and wanted to finish work early in the day to avoid warm summer temperatures in the afternoon. The last time he spoke to his daughter was the night before when he tucked her into bed.
“I said good night to her,” he said. “I tucked her in and kissed her goodnight, told her I loved her and that was it.”
Drew said he left work that day – a Friday - to stop by an auto shop to look at the paint job he’d gotten for his 1979 Trans Am. He spent about an hour at the shop before heading to his home a short distance away.
“When I got home, I was like, ‘Where’s Elizabeth?’ And Wilma was still there. She said she went for a bike ride,” Drew said.
Wilma, the girls’ grandmother, was watching the cousins at the Collins’ family home. Heather Collins, Drew’s then-wife, had left to run errands in the Cedar Valley. Lyric’s mom, Misty Cook, had started a new job at a convenience store in nearby Elk Run Heights.
Drew said Heather returned home and started getting worried after the girls didn’t return from the bike ride.
“At first, I wasn’t really worried. Heather was. And I just figured they stopped at somebody Elizabeth knew and there was talking and time got away from them. So we went out and started looking at some of those friends’ houses and parks and stuff like that. We didn’t find anything.”
Within an hour, Drew knew something wasn’t right.
Heather informed police the girls couldn’t be found. A missing persons report was filed at 2:48 p.m. Drew said police came to the Collins’ home to search and make sure the girls weren’t just sleeping or hiding. While the family waited at the home, Evansdale Police began searching the community and would be joined by nearby agencies.
At about four o’clock, Drew said he received a call before a police officer picked him up and took him to a portion of the trail in the southeastern corner of nearby Meyers Lake. The girls’ bikes had been found with a few other personal belongings, including a purse.
“I started getting really worried and then we found their purse . . . It was over the fence. Then it was really serious because it didn’t make sense that it was over the fence.”
As the afternoon turned to evening, search efforts grew with hundreds of volunteers joining law enforcement to conduct a ground search. Police told Drew to go home and rest. The Collins didn’t feel like enough was being done so Drew met with Dan Trelka, the police chief of Waterloo.
“We met with Trelka and he called DCI and got the ball rolling with DCI and got people coming,” he said.
Early the next day, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived in Evansdale.
Despite their efforts and widespread media coverage of the abduction, there were no signs of the girls.
‘Today ain’t going to be the day’
That summer, Drew described how he spent day and night desperate for information. He said there were days when he would just sit in his front yard and wait for his daughter and niece to come home.
“We would sit in our front yard and literally just wait … hoping,” he said. “By dark, you kind of start getting down. And we’d probably stay out there till one o’clock every morning. And then when it gets dark, it’s like, you know today ain’t going to be the day.”
Every day at 4 p.m. for much of the duration of the search, Drew would meet with investigators at the Evansdale Police Department. Limited details were shared with the family about the progress and leads chased down by law enforcement.
The days and weeks with no new information left Drew to his thoughts.
“You’re scared to death. You don’t know whether your kids are hungry or being hurt or cold, so you have all those things going through your head just constantly. Just kind of playing over and then you’re always looking.”
Drew said they chased down any bit of information they’d receive while searching for the girls.
“We had psychics telling us where to go. And they would give us like descriptions of houses in the country. So, I had a friend go up in an airplane,” he said.
People would share information and theories with the family. Drew said he wanted to hear it all in the hopes that something would lead to a break in the case. He recalled always being on edge and not letting his guard down.
“People would tell me breathe. I thought I was always holding my breath,” he said. “Every time the phone would ring, if it was the police calling to tell us something . . . you’re just waiting for anything. And you will hold on to anything when your kid is missing. You will hold on to anything.”
‘Head to City Hall’
Investigators had talked to Drew and Heather Collins about what would happen if the girls were found.
“If they were found alive, they would take them directly to the hospital, and that we would probably end up going to the hospital,” he said. If it was the outcome the family feared, they would be summoned to meet with police.
For 145 days, investigators searched. Vigils were held. Fliers were handed out. Family members made media appearances in the middle of the worst experience anyone could imagine. No news or major breakthroughs came.
On December 5th, 2012, Drew received a phone call from a preacher at Heartland Vineyard Church. He needed to head to Evansdale City Hall.
“When they called and said go there, I was really worried. And then I got to the City Hall and Chief Trelka was waiting for me,” Drew said. “I just waited for everybody to show up . . . and family started showing up.”
Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock and investigators with the DCI entered the room.
“When I saw Kent, I knew. Just on his face . . . he just had this really grim look on his face. So I pretty much knew.”
Investigators showed Drew several pictures of shoes from the scene at Seven Bridges Wildlife Area where hunters had discovered human remains. Investigators weren’t sure it was the girls. Drew knew they’d found his daughter.
Drew told his children that their sister and cousin had been found.
“I think kind of after that I just I pretty much shut down,” Drew’s voice cracked as he described the days after the bodies were found. “I couldn’t really, I didn’t really plan any of the funeral. I pretty much just let Heather do that. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t talk about it, I couldn’t do anything.”
‘Has to be somebody local’
Drew said he remains in regular contact with investigators a decade after the murders. He is convinced the killer, or killers, are likely members of the greater Cedar Valley community.
“They’re right underneath us somewhere. It’s probably somebody that nobody would notice,” he said. “They have to know the park here. They have to know the entrance or the exit to this park. And they have to know Seven Bridges, just not anybody going to know them places . . . Seven Bridges especially. It’s so remote, it’s in the middle of nowhere. That has to be somebody local.”
Investigators said the person is likely from the area and used quiet coercion to kidnap the girls.
Drew said he continues to hear from people with their own theories about what happened. He said he knows police continue to receive promising leads in the case and thinks they are close to a break in the case.
“They just gotta put them together. I don’t know what they’re missing, but I think they’re getting close. I don’t think they’re getting further away from it. I think they’re getting closer.”
A family’s pain
Drew admits the loss of his daughter and his niece destroyed his marriage and tore the family apart.
“We had a good marriage. But it definitely ruined it. It was just hard.” Drew said he feels bad because he couldn’t always be there to support his other children. “Most days you were just trying to get yourself through the day . . . I know that my other kids were affected because I don’t think I was mentally there for them. I know that. But you just do the best you can, every day.”
A decade after the murders, Drew said he stays in touch with Heather, Misty and Lyric’s father, Dan Morrissey.
“Everyone is in a different place really. Like when something like this happens, it like it breaks you. In a different way. So, it broke me in a different way than it broke Dan. And it broke Heather in different ways than it did Misty.”
Drew said his other children, Kelly, Amber, and Callie, have all had trouble with losing their sister.
“They’ve struggled in their own way too. And we’ve just kind of worked through it the best we could.”
Turning pain into action
In the years since the girls died, Drew has worked to help other families going through similar tragedies. He helped with the development of Angels Park at Meyers Lake. The island serves as a memorial to Lyric and Elizabeth, others who are missing and victims of crime.
Drew said the park has turned into a place of reflection for him.
“Just kind of healing for me just to come out here and enjoy it.”
Drew is a member of Team Hope at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He is partnered with parents of other missing children who are going - or have gone through - experiences similar to his own.
“When my daughter went missing, they set me up with a gentleman from New York who had two missing kids. And he kind of helped me through some of those hard days,” he said. “He can talk to me from a place only a few people can . . . I joined that group in 2013 and started helping other parents.”
Just this year, Drew help form the Elizabeth Collins Foundation. It raises money and awareness about the case and supports Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers.
Drew smiles when asked what he thinks Elizabeth would be doing today.
“She’d probably be making me crazy right now,” Drew laughs. “Probably going to college. Just doing things young kids do, traveling maybe.”
His moment of levity turned to anger.
“Yeah, she was very bubbly. Like super happy. I just couldn’t believe like somebody could hurt her, like, whoever this is a sick, sick person. I mean, she was so, so nice. It doesn’t make sense.”
He goes on to say, “It’s really painful because when you don’t know where they’re at for five months. And then they find them, you feel relieved. And then you feel guilty. And that crushes you because it’s like when they find them, you are relieved that they’re at least they’re found. But then you’ve got guilt . . . It’s the worst thing. I can’t think of anything worse.”
‘We’re coming for you’
Drew said his drive to find justice for his daughter and niece will never fade.
He believes advances in technology will ultimately lead to an arrest and justice in a case that has taken so much from him and his family.
He has a warning for the person who killed his daughter and niece.
“Every night when you close your eyes, you don’t know if tonight’s gonna be the night that they knock on your door, but we’re coming for you. And I’m not going to stop.”
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