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GUT FEELING: Missing Children Expert Fears Worst

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Thursday will mark six weeks since two girls were last seen riding their bicycles in the town of Evansdale.  Today, a leading expert on missing children and sex offenders shared what he thinks happened to Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook.  "My gut feeling:  I think there's an offender out there.  I think these girls were taken.  I think it may be an acquaintance of the family,” said Derek VanLuchene.

VanLuchene put on a seminar Wednesday for law enforcement officers from all 99 Iowa counties.  His brother was abducted from the family’s front yard in a small Montana town and murdered in 1987.  Since then, VanLuchene has devoted his life to strengthening sex offender laws and helping to find missing children.

He said that laws in Iowa protect children better than in many other states, but local police and crime analysts agree that tracking sex offenders is a moving target.  For example, what should police do about a sex offender who already lives within 2000 feet of an elementary school that's about to be built?

That scenario has come up in West Des Moines, according to Alice Wisner, a crime analyst for the West Des Moines Police Dept.  “(The sex offender) was there before the school.  Basically, the law does allow him to live there."

Iowa DCI agents know that parents hold the key to preventing tragedies.  "(Parents are) paying attention to the things their children say when they come home from school, finding things that are suspicious.  They're paying attention to things that are out of place,” said Special Agent in Charge Terry Cowman.  Regarding VanLuchene’s presentation, Cowman added, "If he can bring some best practices to us and we can implement those here, that's what we can learn from this.”