Ryan Larsen family in court to ask that missing La Vista boy be ‘presumed dead’

La Vista Police Chief testimony subpoena dropped
A Sarpy County judge has not yet made a decision on whether to declare Ryan Larsen legally dead.
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 10:53 AM CST
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PAPILLION, Neb. (WOWT) - Appearing in court Tuesday to request for a death declaration for 11-year-old Ryan Larsen, lawyers for his mother dropped their subpoena for testimony from La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten before proceeding with the petition.

Lausten had planned to fight the subpoena compelling him to testify at the Tuesday afternoon hearing in Sarpy County Court, where Tammi Larsen is petitioning to have her son — missing since May 2021 — declared to be “presumed dead.”

In Nebraska, a person is pronounced dead after 5 years of being missing, but the family of Ryan Larsen was in court Tuesday in hopes of pronouncing him dead sooner than that.

That decision would allow them to receive a death certificate for Ryan, presumably so that they could take legal action against the Papillion-La Vista Public Schools. In her filing, his mother outlines fault for Ryan’s disappearance, claiming that a La Vista Elementary School employee saw Ryan leave but that “no immediate action was taken by the school to prevent him from leaving school grounds” or retrieve him.

“Tammi Larsen and the whole Larsen family needs closure,” said Sean Conway, the attorney for the Larsen family after the hearing. “Almost two years ago the Papillion-La Vista school district allowed Ryan Larsen, who is an 11-year-old special needs boy who has the propensity to wander, to simply walk out of the front doors of his elementary school in the middle of the school day, and he hasn’t been seen since.”

“As far as who’s responsible, I think that’s for the courts to figure out,” said Annette Eyman, spokesperson for the Papillion La Vista school district in an interview with 6 News last month.

After a 35-minute hearing in Sarpy county court, no decision was made on whether to declare Ryan Larsen legally dead. The judge said only that she would take it under advisement.

During those 35 minutes, Tammi Larsen testified about her son’s disabilities - Autism, turrets, seizures, and more.

Tammi says those disabilities make it impossible for him to care for himself.

Her attorneys then pointed to the intense searches for Ryan, which lasted several weeks. They reiterated the fact that if Ryan wanders near water, he can’t swim.

“Law enforcement has done their very best to do everything they can to find Ryan over the past 21 months and that hasn’t happened, the closest they had to a lead was when cadaver dogs had hit in a nearby recreation area where there is water,” Conway said Tuesday.

Conway argued that because of these factors, Ryan was exposed to “enhanced danger” and that the court should presume him to be dead.

Attorneys also argued that the ruling needed to be made now, not years from now, saying the statute of limitations to make a claim against the Papillion-La Vista school district is approaching.

“We’re doing it now because we think it’s necessary. In order for the Larsen family to pursue their legal rights against the school district for the negligence of the school district, we think it s a necessary step to go through this proceeding,” he added.

The Larsen family says they need to be able to hold school officials accountable as they believe the district is responsible for what happened to Ryan.

Ryan Larsen disappeared on May 17, 2021, after leaving La Vista West Elementary School. Tammi Larsen filed a petition last month to have Ryan presumed dead saying he could not survive on his own because of the care he needed as a child with autism.

This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.