‘There’s always hope’: One year later search for missing La Vista boy continues

A year ago today, hundreds of community members were helping in a search.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 10:17 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - On May 17, 2021, 11-year-old Ryan Larsen walked out of La Vista West Elementary school, which was not equipped with security cameras.

Hundreds of community members helped local police search creeks, cornfields, and neighborhoods for the boy who has autism.

Ryan left his school around 11:30 that day and was seen by a neighbor around 1:30 p.m. that afternoon near the La Vista Keno. After that, he was never seen again.

The case has stumped local and national authorities for months.

“We need to find him. in fairness to the family, in fairness to the community, for peace for everybody, and most importantly, this is about Ryan,” says La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten.

“Like anybody, we’re parents in the community, a smaller community, it affects all of us. Especially when it’s a child, especially with what we have at this point,” says Supervisory Special Agent John Hallock, with Omaha’s FBI office.

The FBI continues to assist La Vista Police in any way they can as the investigation continues.

Both Lausten and Hallock say their teams will continue to pursue leads, but there haven’t been any credible tips for months.

Tuesday morning, investigators searched Walnut Creek again. Last May, the creek was drained by several feet to help them search the dense lake.

Lausten explains why they keep going back to the lake.

“The lake is a lot clearer than it was even in the past four months, some of the algae, debris, and the muck in that lake has cleared up so it gives us a better opportunity to go back and look at what we were looking at since the beginning,” he says. “We had cadaver dog hits in that lake and we continue to have them. There’s evidence of human decay in that lake. We also know that the lake was built on an old farmstead, so we don’t know if there was an existing cemetery at that time or if someone died in that lake, so we’re going back and trying to check the areas where the dogs hit at.”

The recreational area is a place Ryan was familiar with and would go often with his family. When Ryan had gone missing in the past, police often found him at places he had been before.

“We don’t have a credible tip, we don’t have somebody at that lake that was seen throwing something in or dumping something in that water, we’re going off cadaver dogs right now.”

Chief Lausten says there are a few things that could help the investigation. One of them is finally getting digital information.

“It’s long and arduous to get the information that we’re looking for from social media sites.”

The other?

“If people that had withheld information from us and that lied to us would give us the correct information, the truthful information, it would help us.”

Lausten says people haven’t been forthcoming, and it’s hindering the investigation.

“It’s very frustrating, we’re talking about a 12-year-old, soon-to-be 13-year-old autistic boy that is defenseless, and we need to find him,” Lausten adds.

Is there any hope there that somehow he’s still alive out there?

“There’s always hope,” says Special Agent Hallock. “And we’re going to consider that to be the case that he’s still alive and somewhere, somebody knows something about him until there’s something that’s presented that’s different.”

Since Ryan’s disappearance, Papillion-La Vista schools have approved funding to put security cameras in 15 elementary schools, including the school that Ryan attended.

Chief Lausten says cameras could’ve made a difference in Ryan’s case, and could have helped in other instances of children walking out of schools in the district.

“I think cameras in the schools needed to be done.”

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