Possible sightings of missing La Vista boy give hope as search continues

Ryan Larsen, 11, was last seen leaving school Monday. Police checked the library Tuesday after a social post indicated he may have been there.
A glimmer of hope in the search for Ryan Larsen, someone reported seeing him near the La Vista Library.
Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 10:12 AM CDT
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LA VISTA, Neb. (WOWT) - Tuesday night offered a glimmer of hope in the search for a missing 11-year-old boy from La Vista.

Ryan, a sixth-grade student, was last seen Monday leaving school. He is 11 years old, white, about 5 foot 8 inches tall, and has 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.

Around 4 p.m., someone spotted Ryan Larsen near the La Vista Library, later posting it to social media. Police responded to the library immediately when they saw the post, but by then it was too late.

If anyone has information about Ryan that could help La Vista Police at 402-331-1582; or call 911.

It was the second reported sighting La Vista Police received Tuesday but did not lead to finding the boy. Larsen went missing Monday at noon when he was last seen at La Vista West Elementary School.

Since then, about 200 people in the La Vista community have been searching together for Ryan.

“I just want to make sure he’s OK,” said Elaina Pohl, who joined in the search Tuesday afternoon with her friend, McKenzie Kudym.

“We searched all around the park we went down by the lake we looked in the bushes we walked down by the creek,” Kudym said.

La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said Ryan has been known to run away and hide.

“We had half a dozen times where he had taken off from his home and we found him,” said Lausten.

Chief Lausten said this most recent search has involved multiple agencies searching by air, ground, and even underground.

“We used a sewer camera from our public works department to look in manholes,” said Lausten.

According to Ryan’s family, he likes to hide, especially in small spaces and is really good at staying quiet. Chief Lausten said up until recently, Ryan was even watching Youtube videos about hiding from police.

“We know that Ryan has looked at a number of websites at how to play hide and go seek,” said Lausten.

The chief said while Ryan may be playing games, the police are not. He said they will leave no stone unturned until the child is found.

“There’s no stopping. We’re going to uncover where this kid’s at. This is our most important commodity right now is our kids,” said Lausten.

As for McKenzie and Elaina, they’re also 11 years old and they said they would not want to be in Ryan’s shoes.

“Kind of nervous for him because, I mean, I wouldn’t want to be out in the rain,” said Elaina.

“He’s out here in the cold it was raining last night,” said McKenzie.

Ryan’s family said he is on medication, which makes it even more urgent that he is found. La Vista Police wants to remind everyone if you happen to see Ryan, call 9-11 immediately.

“Please don’t take a picture or get online or social media. We need to know where he is immediately,” said Chief Lausten.

Tuesday afternoon, police said the search for Ryan had already reached a critical level. But with little to update in the afternoon, La Vista Police Capt. Jeremy Kinsey reiterated in a separate update Tuesday evening that Ryan was a high-functioning autistic with a history of leaving home and hiding. He said the police “had no reason to believe he did anything but walk away.”

“He is playing the ultimate game of hide-and-seek — and he is winning,” Kinsey said.

La Vista Police said in another update Tuesday evening they still didn’t think the boy had gone missing under any sort of suspicious circumstances.

Kinsey told volunteers to check east and north of Edgewood — 72nd Street, 66th and Harrison streets and toward Ralston — to widen the search, then “circle back” in a couple of hours if Larsen isn’t found. In their 5 p.m. update, officers said search on the ground and overhead in the area of 72nd Street and Park View didn’t find anything helpful.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kinsey said about 30-40 La Vista police officers were actively searching, and they had help from area law enforcement agencies. Even Offutt Air Force Base sent airmen. The Salvation Army was at the park with water and snacks for volunteers.

He told volunteers not to search on personal property without permission, to obey traffic laws, and not approach officers doing other police work.

Updates will be posted to the La Vista police Twitter account, Kinsey said.

“If you’re getting information from another source, it’s not coming from us,” he said.

Annette Eyman, the spokeswoman for Papillion-La Vista School District, said the school is older, under construction, and has a lot of exits. The doors of the school are locked on the outside to prevent people from coming in, but for safety reasons, they can’t be locked on the inside.

Right now, the district is investigating because they don’t know which door Ryan used to leave.

“Ryan was in the middle of a transition from one room to another, we know he was seen in the hallway by a staff member heading towards his classroom,” Eyman said. “We believe there was probably less than a five-minute window before it was discovered that he wasn’t in the classroom.”

She said they’re not sure which door Ryan used to leave the school or if he left right away.

“The building was searched high and low, multiple times by police, by all of the school staff. We really looked in the building to make sure he wasn’t still there. They searched the building again at 10 o’clock last night,” Eyman said.

Police officers were assisted by K9s for a search after school let out on Monday and again later on that night.

Eyman said they’re trying to keep things normal at the school for the other students but there are counselors available if they’re needed.

She said they’ve been working closely with La Vista police and talking extensively with the family.

“It’s the absolute worst nightmare for a parent or for a teacher, any staff member, to lose a child. And so everyone’s trying to just do what they can to help with the search,” Eyman said.

La Vista Police Chief Robert Lausten said his department believes that Ryan is hiding. Lausten said they have “intelligence that may show us that he’s watched some videos on how to hide from the police.”

According to the police chief, the department has had incidents with Ryan before and that he’s a previous Project Livesaver client.

“We know that he’s out there but now the time period has gone by so the elements are involved and he’s got to be hungry. We want to find him and bring him home,” Lausten said.

He went on to say how much they have appreciated the help of the community and their law enforcement partners in this search.

As of noon on Tuesday, Ryan has now been missing 24 hours. The chief said we are at the point where this is a life and death situation.

“He’s been out overnight. The weather is an issue, but again he’s hungry and he has medication that he needs to take and so we just really need to find him,” Chief Lausten said.

There is no surveillance video to shed light on where Ryan might have gone after he left the school Monday.

The police department said they’re conducting a grid search and going door to door looking for information.

“We’re asking people to go into their backyard and check any sheds that they have, any decking. Anywhere that would give a young kid shelter that he could maybe think that he’s playing a build a fort type game or a survival type thing,” Lausten said.

La Vista Police called off the search for Larsen at 1 a.m. Tuesday and resumed at 9:45 a.m. Papillion Fire Department and Omaha Fire Department dive teams searched the water feature at City Center Park in La Vista Monday, but did not find anything, Chief Lausten said.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.

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