Cases of missing children are always more fraught than those of missing adults, but missing child cases can be even further compounded when missing children have neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. This requires a specialized approach in the missing person investigation that can present particular challenges, like the ones investigators have faced in searching for Ryan Larsen, 12. It’s been over 125 days since Ryan disappeared from his school last May, and investigators are still stymied on what exactly happened in the moments before his disappearance.
Ryan Larsen walked away from La Vista West Elementary school in La Vista, Nebraska on May 17, 2021. Following the report of his disappearance, police launched a comprehensive search of land, air, and water in the nearby areas only to come up with nothing. Unfortunately, investigators were staring down a long tunnel with no answers. In a press conference nearly a month ago, La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said “After the initial period of searching by land, by air, and the water, things went a little bit stagnant.”
Just like any missing person case, the Ryan Larsen case has been subject to a barrage of self-proclaimed psychics who claim they know what happened to Ryan, but none of the tips investigators have received have panned out. When Ryan’s umbrella was found by a dumpster near his family’s home, landfill assessment experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in pursuit of the theory that Ryan might have accidentally fallen in the dumpster and had ended up in the landfill. Lausten also told the media, “They did an analysis and the possibility of that would be very minute, the lowest probability on the scale of that happening. So there’s no evidence we had that it actually happened, but we wanted to rule out even those remote possibilities.”
In hopes of better preparing the La Vista Police Department to better handle cases such as Ryan’s, they have launched a new community program called “Take Me Home.” The program will allow members of the community to help law enforcement with information on their children with special needs, or vulnerable adults. “Getting information about special needs kids, people or vulnerable adults and have that in a database so if we do get a call, for example of an Alzheimer’s patient that walks away from their house, the information we will have already is what places they frequent if they have done this before, where were they found before,” explained Lausten. “So when we’re en route to the call, officers can get into areas quickly and we can get the search going.”
This kind of program has the ability to accelerate the processes behind missing person investigations and benefit future missing persons. Future emergencies can be more quickly resolved and increase the chances of a vulnerable missing person being found.
Ryan Larsen is described as white, 5’8” tall, with brown hair and hazel eyes. At the time of his disappearance, he was wearing a black jacket, blue jeans, an Old Navy Shirt, and was carrying a polka dot umbrella. If you see Ryan, authorities say not to call his name; instead, keep your distance and call 911. Anyone with information about his location should call Sarpy County Crimestoppers at 402-592-STOP (7867); or call 911. LVPD is also urging the public to use its See It, Say It, Send It app to submit tips, but to also “be mindful of unsubstantiated rumors circulating on this case.”
On Tuesday, July 27, 2021, the community of Fruitland, Idaho has been impacted by the disappearance of a 5-year-old boy, Michael Vaughn. In a move that puzzled some citizens of Fruitland, Payette County opted to issue an endangered missing person alert for the missing boy rather than the more colloquially-known AMBER Alert. Michael is described as 3’7″ tall, 50 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a blue ‘minecraft’ shirt and dark blue boxer briefs with sandals.
Michael Vaughn was last seen on Tuesday in the area of SW 9th and Arizona around 6:30 p.m. It was only an hour before law enforcement was on the ground looking for Micahel, assisted by the fire department, EMS, helicopters, drones, and a throng of community volunteers. Despite their best efforts, these first searches yielded no answers for investigators. “The Fruitland Police Department would like to extend a sincere thanks to all of our partner first responders and our community for taking the time to help us thoroughly search the area,” Huff said, however, “I am asking citizen searchers to stay out of the area until the professional search crews are finished.”
Many wondered why investigators did not issue an AMBER Alert for Michael Vaughn when he was reported missing. After all, an Amber alert gives investigators the ability to send out a notification to all cell phones within a designated radius to increase the chances of discovering leads. However, law enforcement is typically very discerning when it comes to issuing AMBER Alerts. If AMBER Alerts are issued too liberally, their impact can be diminished as the notifications become part of the digital background noise in all of our lives. Therefore law enforcement adheres to strict critereia when it comes to AMBER Alerts, which is as follows:
A child is known by police to have been abducted.
The abduction occurred within 12 hours of initial rerport
Child is under 17
Investigators must suspect the child of being in immediate danger or loss of life.
There must be enough information regarding the disappearance to make the AMBER alert useful to public.
The missing child has been entered into NCIC.
In the event that a missing child case does not meet all of the above criteria, law enforcement is then able to issue an Endangered Missing Person Alert, which carries similar tools to that of the AMBER alert. These notifications are sent through email, text messages, social media posts, and the alerting program known as CodeRED. By 9:40 on the evening Michael Vaughn disappeared, investigators had expanded the notification of his disappearance nationwide.
Have you ever seen a missing person TikTok? As an emerging platform, TikTok has already become a sensation, allowing creators everywhere to spread short content quickly to get likes, views, and subscribers. In recent years, TikTok’s wide audience and ability to share information fast has allowed its creators to also use it for the wide spread of information. In this way, the platform has become an ideal way to quickly circulate information about missing persons.
In 2002, Tiktok user Alicia Kozak was groomed online and subsequently kidnaped by a predator who held her for four days before she was finally recovered. She was 13 years old at the time, and believed the person she was speaking to online to be a boy her own age. In reality, it was a 38 year-old man named Scott Tyree. He groomed her over a year before luring her to meet him. He coerced her into his vehicle, then drover her across state lines from Pennsylvania to Virginia. An anonymous tip came into law enforcement about Alicia’s location. The FBI were able to locate Tyree’s IP address and thus his physical address where they successfully recovered Alicia.
Alica’s story was one of the first high-profile stories on the dangers of the internet and grooming behavior. Predators slide into chatrooms and private messages, ingratiating themselves to minors with the intention of luring them from the safety of their homes and into their captivity, taking kidnapping plots to an entirely different level. It’s a danger that not many parents were aware of at the time, and as a survivor, Alicia saw an opportunity to educate the public about internet safety. She started the Alicia Project, an advocacy group that toured around the nation, speaking to children in schools about remaining safe online.
Since the beginning of her advocacy, Alicia has moved her message online, using the power of the social media algorithm to raise awareness for other missing person cases. By its very nature, TikTok provides concentrated content in a finite amount of time, which can be ideal conditions for spreading awareness about a problem or a cause. A missing person TikTok has the potential to reach thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of people. When someone goes missing, a focused and strategic effort to share their face and story can go miles towards finding answers in their disappearance. You can learn more about using social media to locate missing persons here.
It was nearly a year ago that the nation was first captivated by the story of Lori Vallow and her missing children. The entire story read like a salacious doomsday novel, involving cultist extremism, murder conspiracies, and the lives of two missing children who fell through the cracks in the system. Seventeen year-old Tylee Ryan and seven year-old Joshua “JJ” Ryan were last seen last fall in September. It wasn’t until November that they were reported missing and police went to the home of their mother, Lori Vallow, to perform a welfare check. Lori Vallow and her new husband, Chad Daybell, told law enforcement that the children had been living in Arizona. When the police returned the next day with a search warrant for the home, they discovered that both Vallow and Daybell had fled.
While law enforcement searched for Tylee and JJ, journalists and bloggers alike started digging into the lives of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell. What emerged what a slew of intriguing and suspect details about their personal lives. A handful of people in their spheres had turned up dead, including both of their spouses. Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy, died of natural causes, according to her obituary just two short weeks before he married Vallow. Lori Vallow’s previous husband, Charles Vallow, was shot and killed by her brother Alex Cox, who subsequently died from what has been described as “unknown causes.” The sudden deaths of both their spouses their following nuptials, and their flight from Idaho have been the fuel that sustains an online brushfire of conspiracy theories.
J.J.’s autism required the use of a service dog, primarily for sleeping soundly through the night. A dog trainer based in Arizona has come forward with startling information, “I was surprised and shocked when I got the call from Lori that she needed to re-home the dog.” Her only explanation was that her husband had recently passed and the family was moving to Idaho.
The new year came and went, and finally in June of 2020, law enforcement made a discovery that confirmed their worst fears. While executing a search warrant on Chad Daybell’s home in Fremont County, Wyoming, they located human remains that were later identified as JJ and Tylee. As the legal process continues to unfold for Vallow and Daybell, the media is already seizing on the aftermath of what has turned out to be a grisly and heartbreaking case. A recent television special revealed disturbing new details, particularly from Lori Vallow’s friend, Melanie Gibbs, who told the production that when asked about JJ’s whereabouts, Lori told her that JJ was “safe and happy.” This became concerning to Gibbs when she realized that Vallow had told other friends that JJ was in Gibbs’ care prior to his going missing.
As investigators continue to unravel the twisted world of fanaticism and murder, Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell sit in jail, awaiting trial for the unlawful disposal of JJ and Tylee’s remains, the grandparents of JJ Vallow grieve the loss of two bright and effervescent children who were taken from this earth too soon. Upon visiting the site on Chad Daybell’s property where the children’s remains were found, Larry and Kay Woodcock were greeted by the site of mementos and messages of support hung on the fence that lines the property. Moving forward, Woodcock stating that he is interested in a peaceful existence with Daybell’s family, “I’m not coming in hostility in any way. I come with trying to be the peacemaker, and that’s all I want. I just want to be a peacemaker. Let’s all get along here.”
The family of LaShaya Stine is still waiting anxiously for answers in her mysterious disappearance. LaShaya was 16 years old and living in Aurora, Colorado with her family when she disappeared in 2016. For almost four years, investigators have been trying to answer the curious questions about that night, including why would a young teen girl suddenly leave her house in the middle of the night?
LaShaya Stine was a bright and diligent student who was on the honor roll at George Washington High School in Aurora. She was on the professional track to become a nurse and devote her life to caring for others. Great things were on the horizon for her, including an internship with the University of Chicago hospital and a potential new job opportunity.
The night of July 15, LaShaya Stine was mentally preparing for that job interview the next day. When her mother, Sabrina Jones, went to bed that evening, LaShaya was still in the house. The next morning, when Sabrina went to wake her daughter for her job interview, she realized Sabrina was gone. Sabrina grabbed the phone and called her daughter’s cell number, but the line went straight to voicemail. The family combed the neighborhood looking for her, but turned up nothing. That’s when the family contacted the authorities and filed a missing person report.
Unfortunately, the investigators at the time treated LaShaya’s case as that of a runaway. It’s not uncommon, when a missing person case gets labeled as a “runaway” case, that investigators will be slow to act or less than thorough when it comes to following up with leads. Another case might be prioritized over a “runaway” case because it deals with a subject who doesn’t want to be found. It wasn’t until a week after her disappearance was reported that the police chief put a new set of eyes on the case.
CCTV footage near LaShaya’s home revealed that she was out walking along East Montview Boulevard around 2:30 am. When investigators showed the footage to her mother, Sabrina Jones said that it was likely her daughter had gone to meet someone, and had every intention to return to the house—seeing as how all of her personal effects, including her wallet and cell phone, had been left behind. The next logical step was to interview the people in LaShaya’s life, primarily her friends. HOweve,r after multiple interviews with LaShaya’s ex-boyfriend and close friends, police still had not generated any promising leads. Seeing as how the investigators had no proof of foul play, it was extremely difficult for them to move forward.
In the years since LaShaya Stine was reported missing, there have been multiple alleged sightings of LaShaya that corroborate theories that she might have become a victim of sex trafficking, such as her coming and going from motels that were known for facilitating sexwork. The witnesses claimed she was in the custody of a man who might have been transporting her across state lines. One girl who was successfully recovered from sex trafficking claimed to have been trafficked with LaShaya, and described a scar on her chest. Despite police follow up, LaShaya was never found at any of the alleged sightings.
The FBI has joined the search for LaShaya, and the case is still being investigated. If you have any sort of information regarding this case, please contact the Aurora Police Department at 303-739-6164 and Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.
The Aurora Police Department, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers and FBI are offering rewards totaling $15,000 for information that helps them find LaShaya.
During a pandemic, it may be hard to think about anything else besides spread of infection, and the death and misfortune laid at the feed of many. The family of Julia Mann is facing an added layer of horror in these troubling times—the frightening nebulous of “what if” in the case of a missing child.
You may have never heard Julia Mann’s name before this moment, and you can thank that in part to the coverage of the world’s current global pandemic and the spread of COVID-19. Crucial coverage of the pandemic has created an unexpected challenge in media campaigns for missing persons. The key in any missing person investigation is to keep their face in the media and the public eye, and with coronavirus coverage already taking up a great deal of airtime, exposure is limited. Julia’s mother Terrie told Dateline, “I’m worried she’ll be forgotten. We’ve been living in this nightmare since February and now with coronavirus, everything has stalled. And it’s just a scary time out there right now, and I’m even more worried.”
It has now been 11 weeks since 17-year-old Julia Mann disappeared from her grandparent’s home in Watkinsville, Georgia. She was last seen by her grandfather around 10:00 on the night of February 20, 2020, just before the family settled down for the night. When her grandparents woke the next morning, Julia was gone. The only other principle details that have been released to the public is that both Julia’s cell phone and laptop went missing as well, but neither have been used since she went missing. Law enforcement appears certain that Julia left the house on her own, but because her phone and social media accounts have gone dark since her disappearance, police concerns for her safety are heightened.
With authorities claiming Julia left her grandparents’ house of her own accord, the remaining question is why? Julia’s family insists that there is no reason their daughter would have run away, and even if it were possible, she took so little with her—just the cell phone and the laptop. If this was a teenager running away from home, surely she would take more belongings with her. One very sentimental item Julia left behind was a keychain that had been a gift from her little sister, with whom she is very close.
The fact that Julia took her laptop with her when she left the house has lead authorities to consider the possibility that she was lured from the house by a predator. Julia was reportedly involved in online role-playing games. It is shockingly common for predators to use online gaming platforms to groom and lure children from their homes. Among other theories, this is just one that leads authorities to believe that Julia has very likely been met with harm.
Julia Mann is 5’3” tall, weighing around 100 lbs, has blonde hair and several ear piercings. The sheriff’s office did not release a description of what clothing Juliawas wearing at the last time she was seen, but her mother believes she was wearing a lightweight puffer jacket and blue two-toned Vans, which are the only shoes missing from her room. Her mother Terrie has said she fears her daughter is being held against her will and abused by her captor.
Anyone with information on Julia’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office at 706-769-3945.