Cases of missing children are always more fraught than those of missing adults, but missing child cases can be even further compounded when missing children have neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. This requires a specialized approach in the missing person investigation that can present particular challenges, like the ones investigators have faced in searching for Ryan Larsen, 12. It’s been over 125 days since Ryan disappeared from his school last May, and investigators are still stymied on what exactly happened in the moments before his disappearance.
Ryan Larsen walked away from La Vista West Elementary school in La Vista, Nebraska on May 17, 2021. Following the report of his disappearance, police launched a comprehensive search of land, air, and water in the nearby areas only to come up with nothing. Unfortunately, investigators were staring down a long tunnel with no answers. In a press conference nearly a month ago, La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said “After the initial period of searching by land, by air, and the water, things went a little bit stagnant.”
Just like any missing person case, the Ryan Larsen case has been subject to a barrage of self-proclaimed psychics who claim they know what happened to Ryan, but none of the tips investigators have received have panned out. When Ryan’s umbrella was found by a dumpster near his family’s home, landfill assessment experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in pursuit of the theory that Ryan might have accidentally fallen in the dumpster and had ended up in the landfill. Lausten also told the media, “They did an analysis and the possibility of that would be very minute, the lowest probability on the scale of that happening. So there’s no evidence we had that it actually happened, but we wanted to rule out even those remote possibilities.”
In hopes of better preparing the La Vista Police Department to better handle cases such as Ryan’s, they have launched a new community program called “Take Me Home.” The program will allow members of the community to help law enforcement with information on their children 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 they have done this before, where were they found before,” explained Lausten. “So when we’re en route to the call, officers can get into areas quickly and we can get the search going.”
This kind of program has the ability to accelerate the processes behind missing person investigations and benefit future missing persons. Future emergencies can be more quickly resolved and increase the chances of a vulnerable missing person being found.
Ryan Larsen is described as white, 5’8” 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.”