EVANSDALE, Iowa (AP) — Investigators are confident that human remains found by hunters are those of two young Iowa cousins who vanished in July, authorities said Thursday.
Autopsies by the state medical examiner’s office were still under way, but the remains are believed to be those of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, who were 10 and 8 when they did not come back from riding their bikes July 13, Black Hawk County sheriff’s Capt. Rick Abben said.
Hunters found the bodies Wednesday in a rural wildlife area in northeastern Iowa, about 25 miles from Evansdale, the city of 4,700 where the girls were last seen. Authorities found their bikes and a purse near a recreational lake in the city, and their disappearance sparked a massive search and kidnapping investigation involving the FBI, state and local police.
Abben said at a news conference Thursday that investigators were ‘‘confident’’ the bodies were Cook and Collins based on evidence found at the scene and a preliminary investigation. He said the bodies were smaller in stature and authorities ‘‘have no one else that’s missing in this area.’’
Abben said investigators were leaning toward reclassifying the case as a homicide investigation, but would wait for information from the autopsies before proceeding.
Officers from several agencies scoured fields, woods and ditches near the Seven Bridges Wildlife Area for any possible evidence in the case. Deer hunters apparently stumbled on the remains Wednesday in the secluded area, which is intersected by the Wapsipinicon River and is a popular spot for hunting and fishing.
Abben said investigators would continue combing the area for clues for several days and it would remain closed to public access until at least Monday. ‘‘We will gather whatever is out there,’’ he said.
The news of the girls’ likely deaths hit hard throughout northeastern Iowa, which had rallied behind the girls and their families in the five months since they disappeared. Some residents in Evansdale, which is 90 miles northeast of Des Moines, had been holding out hope that they would be found alive.