Police: ‘Do not speculate’ as search for missing La Vista boy continues

Ryan Larsen has been missing — and missing medication doses — since Monday.
Adults and children on the autism spectrum are each very different, Justin Dougherty, executive director of Autism Action Partnership, told 6 News on Thursday.
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 11:07 AM CDT
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PAPILLION, Neb. (WOWT) — As the search for 11-year-old Ryan Larsen continued into its fourth night, La Vista Police urged the public not to speculate or share rumors, saying it does more harm than good.

When police set up a caution tape perimeter around Walnut Creek Lake in Papillion on Thursday afternoon, nearby residents were alarmed.

La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said the action was because they do not want large groups gathering anymore, as it could startle Ryan; and because it was an active search scene. Police said they don’t want anyone walking through the area, perhaps compromising clues as to Ryan’s whereabouts, if there were any.

Thursday evening, authorities were focusing some search efforts at Walnut Creek Lake in Papillion.

La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten shed some light Thursday evening on the medications that Ryan has been on and the effects he might be struggling with after missing doses.

“We have a list of what medications he’s on. We’ve talked to doctors about the effects of those medications, and that’s concerning, that some of the things that he needs to be on,” Lausten said. “You can still survive without those meds, but it helps you cope with the different things that are out there.”

That’s why the efforts to find him have been scaled back — so he’s not scared.

La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten gave an update Thursday evening on the search for 11-year-old Ryan Larsen, an autistic boy who has been missing since Monday.

Adults and children on the autism spectrum are each very different. Despite genuine efforts for some to connect the dots because they may have a loved one on the autism spectrum, Justin Dougherty, executive director of Autism Action Partnership, cautions against it.

”If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism,” Dougherty said. “Whatever works with one child or adult with autism could have the exact opposite impact for another.”

It’s in the best interest of the public — and in Ryan’s best interest — for those assisting in the search effort to defer to police, and leave the relaying of information about how to proceed to police as well.

Dougherty explained autism is a neurological disorder that impacts the way a person sends and receives messages, but it does not mean someone on the spectrum is less intelligent than someone else.

“Too often it’s seen as an intellectual disability, and really it’s different. In situations like this, understanding how a specific individual on the spectrum processes information or threats is crucial,” Dougherty said.

Some of Thursday’s search areas were in parks Ryan is familiar with. Earlier, volunteers joined local police and other agencies to continue the search, but once again, there was no sign of him.

SEARCH COVERAGE: Monday May 17 | Tuesday May 18 | Wednesday May 19 | Thursday May 20 | Friday May 21

Authorities said they have received multiple reports of sightings but that none has been credible. They were asking people to avoid the La Vista area so law enforcement can conduct searches and knock on doors.

Police and FEMA dogs also have been searching areas close to the boy’s home Thursday.

“We have our canine units again,” said John Francavilla, with La Vista Police. “We’re going over areas that have already been checked, but we’ve gotta double-check that because he might have moved out of that area and has come back in to get to familiar territory, to make his way back to his home. So our canines will be there, working and looking.”

Local, state, and national authorities continued the search for Ryan Larsen, who has been missing since Monday afternoon.

LVPD said they are continuing to work with officials in the FBI and experts on missing children and autism to help them understand what Ryan’s mindset might be like right now.

Meanwhile, police communication — with media and volunteers — slowed on Thursday.

Ryan, a sixth-grade student, was last seen Monday leaving school. He is described as white, about 5 feet 8 inches 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 that could help La Vista Police, notify them immediately by calling 402-331-1582 or 911.

Ryan Larsen, 11, has been missing since he walked away from his school in La Vista on Monday,...
Ryan Larsen, 11, has been missing since he walked away from his school in La Vista on Monday, May 17, 2021. He was last seen wearing this exact sweatshirt, La Vista Police said.(La Vista Police Department)

LVPD requested assistance from the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Wednesday.

Thursday morning, the next wave of volunteer searches was intending to focus on creek areas around 110th Street between Harrison and Giles through at least Thursday afternoon.

The volunteer search on Thursday was the smallest seen since Ryan went missing.

La Vista police searched the area near 83rd and Parkview early Thursday afternoon but did not find him.

Managing Editor Kevin Westhues contributed to this report.

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