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Ryan Larsen search: Crews zero in on lake areas where K9s signaled

Crews lowered Walnut Creek Lake to aid in the search for the 11-year-old autistic boy, missing since last Monday.
Published: May. 24, 2021 at 11:22 AM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 4:22 PM CDT
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PAPILLION, Neb. (WOWT) — La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said Monday afternoon that the search for missing 11-year-old Ryan Larsen is focused on areas near Walnut Creek Lake where K9 units have given indications of a scent.

In an update Monday afternoon, Lausten said K9 officers have given three indications, noting that they could have picked up an animal or human scent, or something else. The chief said multiple dogs have hit in the same area — “one Friday, one Saturday, and one (Monday)” — so efforts have been very focused on the northeast end of Walnut Creek.

“We do have search crews again back in Walnut Creek,” he said, noting that the water level had lowered significantly.

While the lowering of the lake was previously expected to continue through 7 p.m. Monday, Lausten said during his 4 p.m. update that the lake could be low enough already to access the area authorities were most interested in searching, so dive teams were heading there now. He said the Omaha Fire and Yutan dive teams “have been instrumental in helping us.”

Walnut Creek Lake, which in recent days became the focus of a multi-agency search for Ryan, now missing a week, has been in the process of being lowered to aid in those efforts. Officials said Sunday night the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District had begun lowering the lake at 7 p.m. Saturday after search efforts for the day had ended.

The muck, silt, and seaweed was “really, really thick” in the particular area they most want to search, he said, and search crews are hoping the lower water levels allow them to scour that area more thoroughly Monday night.

More than 35 agencies, including the FBI and FEMA, are assisting in the search. Crews have been searching by air, on foot, and in the water, he said, noting that crews would be actively searching again Monday night.

Authorities have deployed drones and used sonar, rakes, and other search methods — “everything you can think of” — to look for Ryan. Lausten said search teams had multiple sonar hits at Walnut Creek, but they turned out to be things like branches and tires. Crews have also been battling an undercurrent and dealing with rain and winds in recent days, he said.

Police have looked into whether there was any available camera footage from schools and local businesses that might show Ryan walking, the chief said.

Lausten said groups from Southridge Church would be searching areas near the old Papio Greens golf course, and encouraged those in the community who are familiar with the area to keep an eye out, particularly on trails and in areas with trees, and to submit a tip if they see anything there.

“We take all tips. We follow up on just about everything that we get,” he said.

Because authorities have been able to zero in on a specific part of Walnut Creek Recreation Area, they have been able to open up the park while search crews focus on the specific areas they’ve had K9 indications.

That said, the chief again reiterated the damage false reports on social media have been to the investigation, and urged the community not to get their hopes up unless the information comes from LVPD.

“There has been some chatter on social media from some keyboard warriors in their basements talking about ‘we have an arrest,’ ‘we found Ryan,’” he said. “That is absolutely false. Any information that’s gonna come about this case is gonna come from the La Vista Police Department.”

He also asked the community not to become critical, noting how many outside agencies have been working hard to find Ryan.

Confirming again that authorities had found no reason to suspect Ryan’s disappearance was foul play of any kind, Lausten called some of the rumors floating around out there “absolutely disgusting.” He said the family is “extremely upset” and “distraught,” noting that one of Ryan’s sisters was taking his disappearance particularly hard.

Watch Monday’s news conference

Previous reports

La Vista Police said Sunday evening that dive teams finished preliminary searches in the area Saturday night, but that lowering the creek levels “will give search teams better physical and visual access” to the water. LVPD again confirmed that search efforts focused on the Walnut Creek area after a K9 unit picked up a scent there a few days before.

Police also passed along resources from Project Harmony to help families talk about Ryan’s disappearance with children.

Earlier on Sunday, LVPD said the search for the Ryan had moved away from Walnut Creek Recreational Area, which had been closed to the public since Thursday evening to allow search crews to work. Police would not reveal details about current search efforts Sunday morning, but the recreation area was open, with no sign of authorities nearby. An LVPD spokeswoman said a release would be distributed later in the day.

Meanwhile, La Vista Police tweeted that their search of the area “concluded Saturday night,” and emphatically stated once again that social media rumors circulating about the boy’s disappearance were false.

The LVPD tweet also asked people to share the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children flyer about Ryan.

La Vista Police told 6 News on Saturday that the recreational area would remain closed as teams continued to look for Ryan, who has been missing since he left school around noon Monday and is presumably without food or crucial medication to treat his autism.

LVPD have said in multiple reports that a K9 unit picked up some sort of scent Friday, noting that it could be “animal, human, or otherwise.”

LVPD said Saturday that no news briefings would be held this weekend unless Ryan is found. They also shared the poster of Ryan now displayed on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website.

Authorities have also been warning the public not to spread false information and rumors as such reports hinder efforts to find Ryan.

Authorities have blocked off access to the Walnut Creek area since Thursday night to discourage people from coming in and possibly scaring off Ryan if he was hiding there, according to LVPD. Police tweeted Friday night that dive teams would continue searching Walnut Creek.

SEARCH COVERAGE: Monday May 17 | Tuesday May 18 | Wednesday May 19 | Thursday May 20 | Friday May 21 | Saturday May 22 | Sunday May 23

The Emergency Missing Advisory for the boy expired Friday, and Ryan’s disappearance has since been considered a missing person case.

LVPD called off volunteers Friday as multiple law enforcement agencies continued their search for Ryan. In a tweet Friday morning, LVPD suggested those who want to help should instead offer their support by way of donations to The Salvation Army or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Volunteers had been helping to look for Ryan since he went missing on at noon Monday.

Local, state, and federal agencies continue to assist with the search.

Last week, police said they had checked throughout the ductwork at the school and had even gone through several times with thermal imaging equipment, but found no trace of Ryan. Searches this week have also focused on areas near Ryan’s home, with K9 officers checking in many directions and officers going door-to-door.

Search teams were also deployed on waterways at the recreational area and near La Vista Central Park on Thursday, LVPD said then, noting that “autism experts have shared that children with autism gravitate toward water.”

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

What to do if you see Ryan

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 about his location should call Sarpy County Crimestoppers at 402-592-STOP (7867); or call 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)

Digital producer Kelli Kellogg and Reporter Leigh Waldman contributed to this report.

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