LA PORTE CITY — It was midmorning Thursday in La Porte City, and Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson was a mix of exhausted and invigorated — much like the dozens of local, state and federal officials entering Day 5 in their search for a missing 16-year-old boy.
After four days that saw several hundred people show up to aid in the search for autistic teen Jake Wilson, who went missing Saturday night, volunteers were no longer requested, and the search Thursday shifted from rescue to recovery.
But despite the tone shift and fatigue, Thompson — who estimated he’s slept about eight hours since Saturday — said the more than 30 officials at the La Porte City Fire Station on Thursday remained focused on finding the missing teen.
“What I don’t want is that appearance of slippage, that appearance of acquiescence, that appearance of some sort of surrender,” Thompson said. “It’s an evolution. It’s just a change from what everybody is used to. ... Now we’re on to more of a recovery mission or ‘if not here, then where?’ mission.”
Thompson said the transition was expedited by this week’s tremendous turnout from the public.
“We got here so much faster because we had so much help,” Thompson said.
Cedar Rapids resident Kassie Krug, 23, a health aide at Tiffin Elementary, was one of the hundreds of volunteers who assisted in the search Wednesday.
With experience as a volunteer firefighter and first responder, and as the sister of a 12-year-old brother with autism, Krug said she felt compelled to help.
“Every kid likes to wander,” she said. “It’s a mother’s, a sibling’s, a family member’s worst nightmare to turn around or wake up, and they’re not there.”
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Volunteer efforts have helped rule out large swathes of the community of about 2,300, 15 miles south of Waterloo, and the nearby fields and timber.
“We really want to leave no stone unturned,” La Porte City Police Chief Chris Brecher said. “We want to be able to say without a shadow of a doubt, we know this is where he is not. And that should take us in the direction that we need to be.”
The jurisdictions now involved will be looking at specific search areas and following up on hundreds of leads and phone calls.
Assistance is coming from multiple county emergency management associations and law enforcement agencies, the American Red Cross, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Iowa Incident Management Team, the FBI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Thompson said his main focus is on any potential outsider influences — such as a possible abduction — and Wolf Creek, where Wilson had said he was going Saturday night but never returned.
Officials with the Iowa Incident Management Team, including Capt. Jeff Hembera of the Cedar Rapids Police Department, are helping coordinate and plan the continuing search.
Hembera said much of his focus Thursday was on developing a game plan for the next day — something that can become muddled with all hands-on-deck in the moment.
“It’s that forward planning,” he said. “When you’re in the middle of an incident, that’s hard to plan for. Even if you have all the knowledge and the ability to do it, there’s only so many hours in a day you can stay awake.”
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Hembera added he was impressed with the level of planning and work that had been completed by the time he arrived on-site midweek.
Thompson noted that many of those assisting in the search for Wilson have experience in such matters. The 2012 abduction and murder of cousins Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey led to the creation of the team searching for Wilson.
“Part of that is borne out of the unfortunate experiences that we’ve had to play before,” Thompson said. “All those experiences make us better at what we do and hopefully all those experiences cause us to leverage our forces more effectively and more efficiently to get better results more quickly.”
Meanwhile, Red Cross volunteer and Waterloo resident Joe Vich, 70, who helped deliver food to volunteers and officials leading the search, marveled at the community support he’s witnessed over the last several days.
“It’s why we live in Iowa,” he said. “Small town Iowa pulls together and helps each other. It’s who we are. You got to keep up the hope.”
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