The La Vista Police Department has created a program aimed at spreading information quickly in missing-persons cases in response to the May disappearance of a La Vista boy.
The “Take Me Home” program is a preventive, opt-in registry to provide La Vista police with information about a child or an adult should they go missing.
The database is meant for vulnerable children or adults who may have autism, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Down syndrome or other medical diagnoses and are at risk of leaving school or getting lost.
Family members can register a loved one and answer various questions about the person, including physical details, whether he or she is nonverbal, how law enforcement can safely approach the person, what may scare the person and other helpful information.
La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said the responses will be available to all of his officers in a database so that if they respond to a missing-persons call, everyone can have immediate access and start looking.
“The first hour that somebody is missing is really critical,” Lausten said. “The more information we have right off the bat, it’s a lot easier to get this stuff figured out.”
For example, if someone calls about a missing child who is in the database, some officers would continue talking to the reporting party and then others could immediately head out to search in previously identified areas where that child frequented.
Lausten said the program is modeled after a San Diego County Sheriff’s Office program. He said he wanted to implement something after La Vista resident Ryan Larsen, who was 11 years old at the time, went missing.
In Omaha, police officers can access websites with information about missing juveniles and vulnerable populations, such as people with dementia or autism, said Officer Michael Pecha, an Omaha Police Department spokesman. They are not registries, Pecha said, but if people have concerns about a relative, they can call or email the department’s missing-persons unit.
It has been more than three months since May 17, when Ryan walked out of La Vista West Elementary School and disappeared. His 12th birthday was in June. Hundreds of people gathered to support the Larsen family in the days and weeks after he went missing.
Ryan, who has autism, had gone missing before and was known to some La Vista police officers, but not all, Lausten said.
Officials continue to work on leads in Ryan’s case, but Lausten said no suspects or persons of interest have been identified. Detectives have filed search warrants to get information from social media websites, he said, and continue to conduct limited searches in certain areas.
“It’s a very perplexing case,” Lausten said. “We haven’t gotten any solid information on his whereabouts or what happened to him.”
La Vista residents who are interested in the Take Me Home program can register at cityoflavista.org/takemehome.