EVANSDALE, Iowa (AP) - Authorities searching for two young cousins drained an Iowa lake Tuesday after FBI dogs detected the girls' scents near where their bicycles were found four days earlier, heightening suspicion from family members they might have been abducted.
FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breault said the reaction from the dogs Monday night indicated a "strong possibility" the girls had been at the lake, less than a mile from their grandmother's house where they were last reported seen Friday. However, Breault said because there were no reported sightings, authorities couldn't be certain.
Chief Deputy Rick Abben of the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office said the case was still considered a missing persons investigation. The decision to drain the lake was made to rule out that the girls are not in the water, he said. Once that's done, all resources can be used elsewhere.
Officers slowly paddled around the lake in kayaks on Tuesday morning. A group of three officers walking along the southeast shoreline stopped to study something. An officer with gloves and an evidence bag picked up an object and took it back to a patrol car sitting along the bank.
Officials didn't identify the object or even confirm whether it was related to the search for Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, but it was a rare sign of activity in a massive search that has produced few if any significant leads.
"I don't think that they're in the lake not at all but it is just like a dead end as far as we know so far," said Dan Morrissey, Lyric's father. "We've never gone through anything like this. It's hard enough just to get up and deal with the reality that your daughter is gone."
Tammy Brousseau, 48, an aunt to both girls, said all the signs were pointing to a stranger - possibility a pedophile - abducting them from the area near the lake where their bikes were found.
Brousseau said that just last week she taught Lyric how to "save someone if they went limp in the water." She said she also taught both girls how to "drop to the ground and fight" if someone tried to abduct them.
Lyric's parents said they didn't suspect a drowning either, noting the girls' swimming abilities and the fact no shoes were recovered on the bank of the lake.
"The area where the bikes were found is fenced on both sides, and it is right where maintenance gate is it is a spot that looks to me like a trap," Dan Morrissey said. "Somebody could have just come along right then or followed them down it would have been the worst spot to be in right there."
At least 30 FBI investigators joined the search for the girls, who were last reported seen Friday afternoon leaving their grandmother's house in Evansdale. Their bicycles and Elizabeth's purse were found later that day near a bike trail at the edge of Meyers Lake.