Drew and Heather Collins, parents of Elizabeth Collins, take part in Loras College's "Stop the Hate Week" candlelight vigil Thursday in Dubuque, Iowa.(Photo: Jessica Reilly, AP)
EVANSDALE, Iowa -- Five months after two young cousins vanished
while riding their bikes, residents of the northeast Iowa community
where they were last seen are anxiously waiting to hear whether two
bodies found by hunters are those of the girls.
The families of
9-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 11-year-old Lyric Cook asked for
privacy after being told that the bodies were discovered Wednesday in a
wooded area, Black Hawk County sheriff's Capt. Rick Abben said.
wouldn't say where the bodies were found, but noted that both were
being sent to the state medical examiner's office for identification. He
said he hoped to release more information Thursday.
fight back tears during a news conference in Evansdale, where the girls
were staying with their grandmother when they disappeared, said: "It's
definitely not the outcome that we wanted, obviously."
"This is a difficult thing for us to go through. It's a difficult thing for the community," he said.
cousins disappeared July 13 near a popular recreational lake in
Evansdale, a city about 110 miles northeast of Des Moines. Investigators
found their bicycles and a pink purse near the lake hours later, but no
sign of the girls.
On Wednesday night, about 70 people attended a
prayer vigil at the lake, some cradling plastic cups with candles to
protect the flames from the cold wind. Some were holding out hope that
the bodies weren't those of the missing cousins, though others seemed
resigned to accept tragic news.
"I don't want to think the worst,
but two bodies. It's just really heartbreaking," said Amanda Mulzac, who
lives in nearby Waterloo and was among hundreds of volunteers who
helped in the initial search. "At their age I was out by myself, but now
it's different. Hold your babies close."
Barb Collins, a machinist who grew up in Evansdale and helped lead the group in prayer, said the community was grieving.
were just innocent children. These girls should have been left alone.
They should be home safe in their beds, and it's only a coward who would
have done something like this," she said after the vigil.
Abben declined to say Wednesday if there were any suspects in the cousins' disappearance.
of volunteers had helped investigators search for girls after they went
missing, traipsing through cornfields and wooded areas in and around
Evansdale, a city of 8,000 residents. The mayor even flew above in his
private plane looking for them.
Days later, an FBI dive team
brought in specialized equipment to search the bottom of the lake for
the girls but found nothing. Police then classified the case as an
Investigators had largely been tight-lipped in the
months since. An FBI spokeswoman initially said investigators had reason
to believe the girls were alive, raising the region's hopes. But other
investigators backtracked, saying only that there was no reason to
believe the girls were dead.
Authorities had asked hunters to look for the girls in the region during this fall's popular deer hunting season.
said the bodies were discovered around 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, but
refused to say where. He said the area was still being processed as a
crime scene and could not be compromised.
"Preservation of that scene is paramount," he said.
said the girls' families wanted to express gratitude to the community
for their support but have asked the media to respect their privacy at
Investigators have poured through thousands of tips and chased many different theories in the case.
looked into Cook's parents, who had criminal records for prior
involvement in making methamphetamine. Cook's father, Daniel Morrissey,
is being prosecuted for domestic assault and a series of meth and other
drug charges, and he backed out of a plea agreement with prosecutors the
day before the disappearance. They have denied any involvement.
region had rallied in support of the girls. Photographs of the cousins
seemed to be everywhere in northeastern Iowa: on T-shirts and buttons
worn by locals, and on fliers hung on gas station walls and in business
Local residents had held prayer vigils, even as the
months passed and both girls had birthdays. Just last week, an anonymous
donor pledged $100,000 for information about the girls' whereabouts, on
top of the $50,000 that police had offered.
night's vigil, family friend Sarah Curl said she had seen "a lot of
heartbreak" after news broke about the bodies being found.
tight community that cares about one another, and when something
happens to one family it happens to all of our families," she said.
"This could have happened to anyone."