Authorities 'confident' bodies are two Iowa cousins

EVANSDALE, Iowa (AP) — Northeast Iowa residents who have been holding out hope that two young cousins missing for five months might be home for Christmas were grappling Thursday with the news that hunters likely found the girls’ bodies.

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Cousins Lyric Cook, 10, right, and Elizabeth Collins, 8, have been missing since July 13. Authorities say hunters have found bodies believed to be two young Iowa girls.

Autopsies by the state medical examiner’s office were still under way, but the remains are believed to be those of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, who were 10 and 8 when they did not come back from riding their bikes July 13, Black Hawk County sheriff’s Capt. Rick Abben said.

A vigil for the girls was planned for Thursday night. The community recently set up a Christmas tree to honor the girls, hoping they would be home for Christmas, said Tammy Marvets, whose husband, Randy, came up with the idea. She said her 7-year-old son went to school with Elizabeth and rode the same bus.

“He’s pretty upset. He says, ‘Mom, I just want to cry.’ I said, ‘It’s OK to cry, honey,”’ Marvets said.

Hunters found the bodies Wednesday in a rural wildlife area in northeastern Iowa, about 25 miles from Evansdale, the city of 4,700 where the girls were last seen. Authorities found their bikes and a purse near a recreational lake in the city, and their disappearance sparked a massive search and kidnapping investigation involving the FBI, state and local police.

Abben said at a news conference Thursday that investigators were “confident” the bodies were Lyric and Elizabeth based on evidence found at the scene and a preliminary investigation. He said the bodies were smaller in stature and authorities “have no one else that’s missing in this area.”

Abben said investigators were leaning toward reclassifying the case as a homicide investigation, but would wait for information from the autopsies before proceeding. He declined to say whether the bodies were concealed, or how long investigators thought they had been there.

Relatives have not gone to see the bodies and “there’s no reason for them to do so,” Abben said.

Officers from several agencies scoured fields, woods and ditches near the Seven Bridges Wildlife Area for any possible evidence in the case. Deer hunters apparently stumbled on the remains Wednesday in the secluded area, which is intersected by the Wapsipinicon River and is a popular spot for hunting and fishing.

Abben said investigators would continue combing the area for clues for several days and the park would remain closed to public access until at least Monday. “We will gather whatever is out there,” he said.

The news of the girls’ likely deaths hit hard throughout northeastern Iowa, which had rallied behind the girls and their families in the five months since they disappeared. Some residents in Evansdale, which is 90 miles northeast of Des Moines, had been holding out hope that they would be found alive.

“We are all grieving. We hurt for the families and believe me it touches the community deeply because it is a small community,” said Jeff Rasanen, pastor of the Faith Assembly of God Church in Evansdale. “It’s a sad time. We were just praying for a much better outcome.”

The two were being watched by their grandmother at Collins’ home in Evansdale when they went for a bike ride on a Friday summer afternoon. Surveillance footage and witnesses have confirmed that they were riding nearby. After they didn’t return, relatives reported the girls missing hours later. A firefighter soon found their bikes near Meyers Lake, and a search that involved hundreds of volunteers and several police agencies ensued.

Authorities had asked hunters to look for the girls in remote woods and fields this fall. Jennifer Lancaster, chief law enforcement official for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in northeastern Iowa, said she believed deer hunters happened to come upon the bodies and called police.

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