100 days later, Ryan Larsen case still active but slowing down, chief says

Ryan Larsen, now 12, has been missing since he walked away from his school in La Vista on...
Ryan Larsen, now 12, 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)
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 7:28 PM CDT
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LA VISTA, Neb. (WOWT) - A hundred days ago, Ryan Larsen, now 12, vanished after walking away from La Vista West Elementary School.

“After the initial period of searching by land, by air, and the water, things went a little bit stagnant,” La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Lausten said that in recent weeks, tips from the public have stopped coming in, minus a few bizarre “readings” from those who claim to be psychics knowing the real reason for Ryan’s disappearance.

In late July, the department welcomed top landfill assessment experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

It came weeks after Ryan’s umbrella was found near the dumpster behind the complex where he and his family live, Lausten said. They wanted to know if Ryan had somehow accidentally gotten into a dumpster, or if he was perhaps placed in one, and ended up in a local landfill.

“They did an analysis and the possibility of that would be very minute, the lowest probability on the scale of that happening,” he said. “So, there’s no evidence we had that [it] actually happened, but we wanted to rule out even those remote possibilities.”

Lausten also tells 6 News the department issued warrants to Google, hoping it will provide more electronic information from devices used around the time Ryan vanished.

“It could give us information on cell data or numbers that may have been in use that we could relate to any numbers we had suspicions on. It’s kinda like a fingerprint, you don’t know whose fingerprint this is unless you have a database where you can compare a fingerprint to, so we’re really trying to find info where we can compare numbers to.”

The department issued those warrants shortly after the search began; and if Google complies, it should take around 90 days for the information to end up in the department’s hands, Lausten said.

The department has learned a lot from Ryan’s case, he said. Things that will likely help them in the future.

“What we’ve learned, for instance, searching in the water: We didn’t know about, basically, water drones. Now we have access and a drone that can search in the water. We’ve learned the capabilities of what drones can do in the air and how they can map different areas,” he said.

6 News asked Chief Lausten whether there was anything he or the department would change about their response in the early days of Ryan’s disappearance.

“Actually, we’re pretty confident that what we did initially, we did the right way. I wish we had access to video a lot earlier; again, there were two businesses that held out on us for over 60 days until we were able to review video.”

Lausten said this set them back from eliminating certain search areas near 84th and Harrison streets.

The La Vista Police Chief said the case is slowing down, but that department has learned some things along the way.

Beginning community searches and calling volunteers, and bringing in the Nebraska State Patrol and FBI in the first two days are all things Lausten said he would do again.

But Lausten said Ryan’s case is ‘very complex and perplexing,’ and that it has stumped local and federal agencies.

“Somebody knows something about what happened to Ryan. We want them to come forward and tell us. We have no evidence that he was abducted. We have no evidence that he may have run off, we have no evidence that harm may have come to him,” he said.

In an effort to help the department better prepare for cases that may be similar to Ryan’s, on Sept. 1, the department is launching a new program called “Take Me Home.”

The department’s website will have documents for community members to fill out in order to help officers learn more about their loved ones - namely children, those with special needs, or vulnerable adults.

“Getting information about special needs kids, people or vulnerable adults and have that in a database so if we do get a call, for example of an Alzheimer’s patient that walks away from their house, the information we will have already is what places they frequent, [if] have they done this before, where were they found before,” Lausten explained. “So when we’re en route to the call, officers can get into areas quickly and we can get the search going.”

This will help the department greatly in future emergencies, he said.

“The most important time for a lost child search is within the first hour, so if we have some information already available to us about children, special needs children, vulnerable adults, our cruiser officers can respond and flood the area and get a head start.”

The form will allow residents to provide any and all important information and photos of their loved ones.

Lausten also said that based on this investigation, the department will be researching the idea of putting together a county-wide initiative or task force solely dedicated to missing children. However, that possibility is still in the early stages.

What to do if you see Ryan

Ryan, a sixth-grade student, was last seen leaving school Monday, May 17. 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. LVPD is also urging the public to use its See It, Say It, Send It app to submit tips, but to also “be mindful of unsubstantiated rumors circulating on this case.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children issued a poster for Ryan Larsen, who has...
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children issued a poster for Ryan Larsen, who has been missing since Monday, May 17, 2021.(National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

Continuing coverage

Monday May 17: La Vista Police ask the community’s help to find Ryan Larsen, an 11-year-old La Vista boy with autism, last seen that day leaving La West Elementary at noon. A neighbor at the apartment complex where his family lives later reports seeing Ryan there shortly after he left school. Nebraska State Patrol issues an Emergency Missing Advisory for Ryan.

Tuesday May 18: LVPD responds to two possible sightings of Ryan, including one near the La Vista Library.

Wednesday May 19: LVPD asks for federal assistance in the search for Ryan. The FBI and FEMA become involved in the case.

Thursday May 20: LVPD puts up a caution tape perimeter around Walnut Creek Lake in Papillion to discourage groups from gathering there as authorities focus their search for Ryan there. In a news conference that night, Police Chief Bob Lausten urges the public not to speculate or share rumors, saying it does more harm than good.

Friday May 21: La Vista Police reveal that K9 units picked up a scent of some kind at Walnut Creek Recreational Area, but Lausten said authorities are still searching in other places, too. Nebraska State Patrol said in a news conference that the Emergency Missing Advisory regarding Ryan would expire as it’s been in place for 72 hours. Local, state, and federal agencies continue to assist with the search.

Saturday May 22: LVPD tells 6 News that the recreational area would remain closed another day as teams continued to look for Ryan. 6 News observes crews from Bennington, Waterloo, and Yutan coming in along Turkey Road to assist with the search. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website displays a “missing” poster of Ryan. LVPD later reveals that the Papio Natural Resources District began lowering Walnut Creek Lake around 7 p.m.

Sunday May 23: La Vista Police reveal that dive teams finished preliminary searches in the area Saturday night, noting that lowering the creek levels “will give search teams better physical and visual access” to the water. Police also passed along resources from Project Harmony to help families talk about Ryan’s disappearance with children.

Monday May 24: In a news conference, Chief 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 had hit in the same area — “one Friday, one Saturday, and one (Monday)” — so search efforts become focused on the northeast end of Walnut Creek. Divers are able to access that area, but Ryan isn’t found.

Tuesday May 25: Authorities have no new information to share on the search, but said they believe Walnut Creek Recreational Area has been thoroughly searched.

Wednesday May 26: La Vista Police said they are focusing search efforts on surveillance video, particularly one from La Vista Keno taking the day Ryan was last seen. LVPD asks businesses and homeowners along Harrison Street, between 72nd and 96th streets, to check their security footage and let police know if they see “any sign of Ryan.”

Thursday May 27: La Vista Police reported no new developments Thursday as they continued their search for Ryan. They also asked that the family’s privacy to be respected. “We are updating them frequently on our search for Ryan, and they are understandably fearful and concerned. Please be understanding of their decision regarding public comments or lack thereof.”

Friday May 28: La Vista Police held a press conference and mention that they will continue their search next week in different areas. The police are still working with the FBI, Omaha Police, Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office, and Nebraska State Patrol. “They’re anchors that help with manpower, personal, and resources.”

Saturday May 29: Six fire departments in the Omaha-metro area join the La Vista Police in the continued search. Volunteer firefighters and divers from Ashland, Bennington, Council Bluffs, Plattsmouth, Waterloo, and Yutan were seen near Walnut Creek.

Monday May 31: LVPD said that half of the department’s 40 officers are assigned to Ryan’s case, but that amid the search, officers are also balancing service calls. Captain D.J. Barcal tells 6-News: “We still have an obligation to the citizens to enforce all the laws and attend to their needs.”

Tuesday June 1: Chief Lausten said 80 personnel from the Omaha-metro, some from Redoak, Iowa, were canvassing areas close to Ryan’s home near 83rd and Harrison streets; and near La Vista Keno, an area authorities believe Ryan was last seen.

Wednesday June 2: LVPD said authorities are reviewing information gathered during the previous day’s door-to-door canvas in hope of developing any potential new information or leads. Surveillance video is sent to Quantico to be enhanced; Chief Lausten said Ryan’s mother does believe it is him in the recording.

Sunday June 6: As authorities enter the third week since 11-year-old Ryan Larsen went missing, the search for the La Vista boy continues to largely focused on the Walnut Creek Recreation Area, a place familiar to him.

Tuesday June 8: As the family of Ryan Larsen marked the boy’s 12th birthday without him, the La Vista Police chief told 6 News that law enforcement is continuing to analyze all leads in the case. Authorities are reviewing — and pursuing — video from additional business, looking more closely at sex offenders in the area, and staying in touch with Ryan’s family. The boy’s mother, Tammy, was at a birthday event for Ryan that evening, but told 6 News it’s still too emotional to talk about her son’s disappearance.

Wednesday June 9: With the public’s help, La Vista Police identified a woman they were looking for who they said may have had information about the case.

Thursday June 17: La Vista Police tweeted a photo of a person they’re looking for who they say “may be a potential witness,” emphasizing the person is not a suspect in the case. About 45 minutes later, they said the person had made contact with them.

Tuesday June 29: Chief Lausten reports that authorities found the umbrella they believed Ryan had with him when he went missing, confirming what investigators already believed: that he had returned to the apartment complex area after leaving school the day he disappeared.

Friday July 16: On the eve of the two-month anniversary of Ryan Larsen’s disappearance, La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said investigators are still working to follow up on some initial information in the case.

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