EDITORIAL: Persistence paid off, police deserve respect

Editorial Board

Picture this: You’re an ISU Police officer and you’re searching for Jon Lacina. You’re walking through an area that’s already been searched, hoping you might find another clue, something, anything.  You and everyone you work with have exhausted every other option. You’ve traced and retraced your steps through the changing seasons and now you’re trying again, one more time, steps you’ve taken before but you’re hoping, maybe this time. You walk up to the Dairy Pavilion and it’s dark, so maybe you pull out your flashlight so you can see, as you make your way down the rickety stairs tucked away at the back of the building.

Three months ago on Jan. 30, Tom Lacina called ISU PD to report his son missing. He’d walked away from 300 Stanton after an evening of video games, and disappeared. It got colder then it snowed, 7.3 inches in that first week, and still they hunted. Divers checked the lake in freezing water, under the ice, trying not to kick up too much silt so they could see more than a few feet in front of their faces. Officers adopted snow piles to search. Volunteers gave up time outside of their regular jobs to canvass neighborhoods, the cross country fields, steam tunnels — anything in the four-mile search radius the police established.  Nights that everyone else bundled up and hustled to the nearest warm building, they searched, freezing and longing for a hot drink or the warmth of a patrol car, but still looking.

You know this as you’re making your way down the stairs. How many times have you combed through an area you know has been searched before? Maybe this time you’ll find a clue. They’d found a shoe earlier that month, it was his size, but it was a dead end. Maybe he’s in another state, you think. Maybe he’s 1,000 miles away. You don’t know. But you’ll keep looking.

 The search has been hampered by little details. There are a lot of people to coordinate. From the Greek leaders who searched their houses, to the university staff who went through closets, elevator shafts, mechanical rooms, every little out-of-the-way place on campus that no one thinks of until something is lost. All told, people from ISU and Ames Police, the Sheriff’s office, Story County Emergency Management, State Patrol, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Star1 Search and Rescue and even Mercy One hospital in Des Moines, which brought a helicopter to help. Volunteers even searched on horseback. Still, knowing it might help, ISU police solicited the help of farm managers and other residents in Ames to search their properties.  Because there’s no evidence of a crime, you can’t get warrants, so you have to wait much longer for subpoenas to go through. And in the 82 days since police knew of Lacina’s disappearance, they haven’t been able to drop their other duties. They’re still patrolling the campus every day, providing safety escorts for students, responding to calls, and trying to keep the town safe, with the specter of a missing student looming over them. And on every shift you search somewhere. It’s part of the strategy, search until we find him.

And on this night, you drove out to the Dairy Pavilion, even though it’s just outside the search radius and you look again. The occasional headlight passes by, but mostly, you’re alone. You shove that rotted door open and you see him. Surprised, maybe you stumble back a bit, it’s probably never going to be something that you get used to. Finding a dead body, it isn’t pleasant. You call it in, and find out the next day it’s Lacina and you’re relieved. The search is over.

Then everyone asks: What took you so long?