116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In the two weeks since Xavior Harrelson vanished from a Montezuma mobile home park just before his 11th birthday, hundreds of volunteers have searched for him, authorities have checked in with known criminals in the area and the FBI has set up a digital tip line.
So far, no definitive evidence has emerged to clarify whether Xavior ran away, became lost or was abducted.
“Every day that goes by — every moment that goes by — we are more and more suspicious,” said Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. “We are obviously all very concerned and eager for answers.”
In missing person cases involving adults, authorities at least often have cellphone and banking records to help search for clues. But not so in the case of a missing child — forcing law enforcement officials to follow a more narrow trail in seeking tips and following leads.
The Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that a reward fund has been established to encourage those who may have information to come forward. The office said the fund was made possible with donations from “local businesses and private citizens” and had reached about $15,000.
Xavior lived with his mother in the Spruce Village trailer park on the northwest edge of Montezuma, a town of 1,300 people located 70 miles east of Des Moines. He disappeared after leaving home about 11 a.m. May 27.
The mobile home park is less than a mile from Diamond Lake County Park, which features more than 660 acres of wooded land, a 90-acre lake and roughly 120 campsites.
In the past two weeks, Mortvedt said, investigators have conducted dozens of searches, one involving more than 500 volunteers; interviewed to 100 or more people; and are running down and re-evaluating numerous tips and leads.
Investigators have also done background checks on everyone close to Xavior and those living in the vicinity, as well as looked into registered sex offenders in the area and those with criminal convictions. Mortvedt said that’s standard procedure in any missing persons case.
“The investigation is, still is moving forward,” he said. “Obviously, we're still asking for any and all information from the public. Kind of like we were in the Mollie Tibbetts investigation, we're going back through everything that we've done thus far, we're taking in new information, evaluating it and vetting it, and still trying to find Xavior.”
Investigators have also requested residents and businesses in Montezuma with video surveillance systems to share their video in case one them picked up any clues. Mortvedt said the community response has been good.
The DCI joined the search a few days after Xavior went missing. The FBI joined in last weekend. So far, it appears investigators have few answers.
“These investigations are a challenge from the moment that child goes missing,” said Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson, who is not involved in the investigation into Xavior’s disappearance but has insight from his own experiences in missing child cases.
Thompson was involved in the investigation into the disappearance of Jake Wilson, a 16-year-old autistic boy from La Porte City. Jake’s remains were later found in a nearby creek. Thompson also was involved in the case of two missing cousins — Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10 — who vanished from Evansdale in 2012. Their bodies were later found, murdered, in Bremer County.
“Timing is crucial” in missing child cases, Thompson said. “You want to bring to bear every asset you have at your disposal as quickly as possible — so locking down the scene, talking to family and witnesses, gathering information and evidence, getting information out to the public and media outlets, marshaling manpower and other resources, all of that is crucial.”
“The challenge with these incidents is the playing field is different every single time,” he added. “With the missing cousins, we knew we had a lake, we had a bike trail, we had a town, and we had a high-traffic avenue, which was I-380. So that was a lot of challenges we had to address. And, in the Jake Wilson case, we had a smaller village, a smaller community with two intersecting highways, we had Wolf Creek, we had fewer home surveillance cameras, and we had one main intersection in town. You know, it was just a completely different situation. So you have to look at where you are, look at the geography of the situation and make sure you’re making the best use of the resources you have.”
Cases involving missing children can be especially challenging because the child is not likely to leave a traceable trail, said La Porte City Police Chief Chris Brecher, who was also involved in the Jake Wilson case.
“It’s unlikely that a child of that age — 10 or 11 years old — would have a cellphone or some other type of device that we could track through its GPS,” he said. “And a young child likely won’t be leaving a trail of credit card transactions or ATM withdrawals. So you really almost have to put yourself in that child’s shoes and focus on, ‘Where would this child go? Who would this child talk to? Who does this child spend time with,’ and so on.”
As the investigation proceeds, Thompson said it is not uncommon for investigators to reach a point where it may look like they are pulling back — visible physical activities, like foot searches, become less frequent and the public’s help is not as needed as it was.
“That’s a normal part of the process,” he said. “And it can be frustrating to the public because they want to help, they want to be involved and they want to know what’s going on. But there comes a time in the investigation where you have to pull back and reexamine what you know so far and re-evaluate what steps should come next, and that’s something the public can’t help with.”
Thompson said he has followed the Xavior Harrelson case closely and has worked with many of the investigators on previous cases.
“I know a lot of these investigators personally, and they are committed to a fault,” he said. “We don’t stop, we want answers, we want that resolution, and we refuse to concede. We will fight for this, like it's our own child until the very last thread of evidence has been exhausted, and I think that in and of itself speaks highly of the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office and DCI and the investigators working on this case, too.”
Officials said Xavior was last known to be wearing a red T-shirt, blue pajama pants and black high-top shoes. He has brown hair and blue eyes and is about 4′8″ tall and 100 pounds. Anyone with information about his disappearance should contact the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office at 641-623-2107. Or, tipsters can submit information through a digital media tip line at fbi.gov/findxavior.
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