116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
EVANSDALE — Two young girls from Evansdale, Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins, went for a bike ride 10 years ago today and never came home.
Their bodies were found months later at a wildlife park, but the crime remains unsolved.
Elizabeth and Lyric were 8 and 10 years old respectively, and they were cousins. They were very close and often played together, putting together dance teams with their other siblings and neighbors, according to the website of the Elizabeth Collins Foundation, an organization recently started by Elizabeth’s father and aunt.
“Lyric had a passion for being outdoors and loved to go fishing with her father. She liked to swim off of the dock where her great-grandmother lived. She loved to go sledding at Hope Martin Park in the winter and play cards with her grandmother,” the site reads. “Elizabeth enjoyed dressing up and getting her nails and hair done. She loved singing, riding her bike and playing softball and hockey. She had a big heart and a great love for animals.”
Disappearance and death
A lot has changed in the years since the girls’ disappearance, but Elizabeth’s father, Drew Collins, still remembers the day it happened, July 13, 2012, in detail.
He started the day at work. He owns a tree removal business, and there had been a storm the night before so there was plenty of work to be done. He went to check on his car, which was being painted. Then he went home, where Elizabeth and Lyric were staying with their grandmother, his mother-in-law, who had come to take care of them.
Drew asked his mother-in-law where the girls were, and she told him they’d gone for a bike ride and hadn’t returned yet. After a few hours, Drew and his then-wife, Heather Collins, started getting worried.
“We called the police and the search was on. … They found their bikes around 4 o’clock that afternoon. I went and identified the bikes. We found a purse of Elizabeth’s with her phone in it, and we just started panicking and started looking, started driving around town looking at all the parks and stuff, trying to find them,” Drew said.
The search continued for months. Drew went back to work, for the sake of his eight employees, but he said sometimes he would break down on the job and have to take a few minutes to collect himself.
Then in December 2012, the family got the terrible news: the girls were dead. Their bodies were found by hunters at Seven Bridges Wildlife Park, a secluded area about 20 miles from Evansdale, which is just outside Waterloo.
“I was at work and I got a phone call from somebody at our church, and he said to meet at the City Hall. So I went to the City Hall,” Drew said. “They waited for the family to show up and (then-Evansdale Police Chief) Kent Smock came in. And pretty much when I saw his face, I knew it wasn’t good.”
The Collinses gathered their other children that night and told them the news.
“It really just tears everybody apart, because everybody grieves so differently, and when it’s something this traumatic, it really tears apart a family. I’m now divorced,” Drew said. “It just puts a lot of wedges and a lot of hard feelings between people, but hopefully time heals those wounds.”
While the family continues grieving, investigators with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Bremer County Sheriff’s Office are still working to find answers.
Law enforcement has released very little information to the public about the case, declining to talk about specifics like the condition the girls’ bodies were found in or their cause of death. Keeping that information from the public makes it easy to rule out false leads and suspects, according to Special Agent Scott Reger from the Iowa DCI.
“We get a lot of information that isn’t helpful. It comes in, and we never want to discourage people from sending it in, but a lot of times there’s information where you’re pretty quickly able to determine (that) I don’t need to send an agent to go interview because the information they provided doesn’t match up with our case facts,” he said.
Tips about the case still come in regularly, even after 10 years, and Reger said the tips get more frequent in June and July each year, around the anniversary of the girls’ disappearance. In the last 10 months, the investigative team has received 117 tips, according to Reger. In total, almost 2,000 tips have been sent in during the last 10 years.
Despite the amount of time that has passed, it has brought changes in technology that increase investigative opportunities, according to Det. Jason Ellison from the Bremer County Sheriff’s Office.
“Especially in the last three to four years, there's been a ton of advancement in technology, as far as cellphone data, forensic genealogy, DNA testing, all of those have made huge advances,” Ellison said.
Elizabeth and Lyric’s case is well-known enough nationally that sometimes private labs will reach out to investigators to let them know about new technology that’s been developed and ask if it could be an asset to the investigation, according to Reger.
“As much as you want to resolve it sooner rather than later, timing becomes your ally because it does allow technology to develop. There are things that can be done with certain pieces of evidence in 2022 that weren’t able to be done in 2012, and there’s stuff that is going to be done 10 years down the road that we can’t do right now,” Reger said.
The investigators from the DCI and the Bremer County Sheriff’s Office who are assigned to the Evansdale case get together about once a month to share updates. They try to dedicate three days a month to the case, according to Ellison.
“What we’ve done and continue to do is look at what’s been done already in the case, comb through that and see if there’s something that needs more attention and needs to be looked at a little bit closer, and try to push that along, as well as receiving tips and following up on those,” Ellison said.
In a case as old as this one, it’s important to get new eyes on important information, according to Chris McDonough, the director of law enforcement relations for the Cold Case Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness and assisting law enforcement in solving cold cases.
“It’s critical to maintain the control of the flow of information, but it’s even as critical to sometimes leak information into the public purposefully so that it generates a thought process in somebody, maybe even the suspect,” McDonough said. “Typically within the first 300 pages of the initial investigation, your suspect will probably be in there somewhere.”
Ongoing community impact
Evansdale and the surrounding community have not forgotten about Lyric and Elizabeth. Posters remain visible in people’s houses, and social media groups discuss the case regularly. The fact that investigators still are regularly receiving tips shows that people in the area are still thinking about the two girls.
“I’m sure it’s in the back of people’s heads. Your perspective changes. People, for the most part, believe they live in a safe area. Stuff like this can happen in any town, any community. Crime doesn’t hold to one area over another. There’s bad people all over and there’s good people all over. You can’t predict when something like this will happen,” Ellison said.
In 2013, Evansdale changed the named of Meyer’s Lake Park, a park close to where the girls were last seen, to Angels Park in honor of the cousins and a few other Iowan girls who have been killed. The park has several memorials honoring the lost children.
Drew Collins is always working to make sure his daughter and niece are not forgotten. In March, he and his sister started The Elizabeth Collins Foundation with the goal of raising funds to support other families of children who are killed or missing.
“Our purpose is just to be there for them, help them. The other thing we’re trying to do is we’re raising money to be able to help some of the cold cases get some more exposure,” Drew said.
Despite the way his life has changed in the last 10 years, Drew still holds out hope that the case will be solved and he and his family can finally have certainty.
“I would just want to say to whoever’s out there that does know something, time is on our side, technology is on our side, and the day is going to come where they’re going to come knocking. I just can’t wait for that day, but it’s coming,” Drew said.
A reward of $100,000 is being offered to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest in the case. The award reached that amount last year thanks to anonymous donors.
Tips may be submitted by emailing the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at firstname.lastname@example.org, texting CEDAR plus the tip to 274637 (CRIMES), submitting information at cvcrimestop.com or at the Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers Facebook page.
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