Almost a week since autistic teen missing, authorities switching to “surgical” search approach

LA PORTE CITY, Iowa — Authorities have switched to a surgical approach in their search for a missing 16-year-old boy in eastern Iowa.

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said Wednesday that volunteers are no longer being sought because search operations for Jake Wilson now will be carried out by trained personnel with specific skills. He says the broad net formed of hundreds of searchers is being followed by “a very surgical approach.”

“We wanted to be able to check those blocks and say he’s not here, he’s not here. Now we have got to a point where we can start utilizing assets that are far more adept in working in those areas the public isn’t. So, from a broad net to a very surgical approach,” Thompson said.

He said the massive volunteer effort was needed to be able to get to this point, and because of the large turnout, they were able to reach that point sooner than expected.

Family members said Jake was last seen around 8:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday when he asked his stepfather if he could go to nearby Wolf Creek, saying he would be right back. When he didn’t return home, police and firefighters began searching along the creek that night, and the following days brought hundreds of volunteers who combed dozens of miles.

His mother, Megan Neiswonger, has said Jake has autism with a mild intellectual disorder and functions at the level of a 9-year-old.

She told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that the situation is “running us down.”

She is also bothered by social media posts questioning the decision to allow Jake to leave the house at night and criticizing her for being asleep when Jake left.

She said people shouldn’t be judgmental.

“We are very good parents, and we understand our son and what he likes to do,” she said. “The family has fully cooperated with investigators.”

Neiswonger said Saturday was a normal day before Jake disappeared. He went with her to buy groceries, played Yahtzee with his siblings, listened to music and played video games. He also went “treasure hunting,” collecting spent shotgun shells at a boat ramp outside of town.

“They found some stuff, and he was happy,” she said.

She said Jake likes collecting things, wild game calls — although he doesn’t hunt, he has everything with the exception of a moose call — old keys and spent shell casings.

He also got ice cream, heading to Tootsie’s for a cookie and cream Twister before returning home and asking to visit the creek.

Police Chief Chris Brecher said about 300 people signed in for Wednesday’s search.

“I’ve got just about every discipline from every law enforcement agency — state, local and federal engaged,” Thompson said at the Wednesday morning briefing. “A lot of those have been specifically chosen because of their discipline, because of their particular expertise.

“I’ve got state and local folks out there working with FBI folks making contact with people on the sex offender registry. That would be something you’d expect,” Thompson said. “We are doing everything from re-canvasing, re-touching, making sure we got good documentation of everybody we talked to.”

Anyone with information on Jake or information related to the case is asked to call Black Hawk County Dispatch at 291-2515, or their local authorities.