Logan City Police Chief Gary Jensen said authorities believe they have strong evidence linking Alex Whipple to the disappearance of his niece, 5-year-old Elizabeth Shelley, and police also believe she has been injured in some way, but Jensen is not ready to label the massive search as a “recovery effort.”
“I don’t ever want to take hope out of the equation,” he said during a press conference Tuesday morning. “To say it is a recovery — I don’t think I want to go there yet, I don’t want to steal hope from those that are still hopeful.”
Scores of people turned out to the grounds of the Historic Cache County Courthouse for an impromptu vigil Monday night, expressing sympathy for Elizabeth’s family, support for searchers and a hope for some resolution to the ordeal.
Whipple and Shelley were reported missing Saturday morning, and the search for them initially started near the child’s home. However, a few hours later, a Cache County Sheriff’s deputy found Whipple walking alone in a rural area near Hyrum.
When approached, Whipple allegedly refused to identify himself, refused to comply with police orders, and attempted to get away from deputies.
“The male had a metal baseball bat tucked in his back pocket and hidden in his jacket along his back. In his back pocket, a wallet was found with picture ID identifying him as Alexander Whipple,” the deputy wrote in a probable cause statement.
Jensen said Tuesday that the baseball bat is not part of evidence police are considering at this time.
Whipple was taken to the Logan Police Department, where he was questioned for several hours before being booked into the Cache County Jail. He was charged Tuesday with multiple misdemeanor offenses in connection to his contact with police on Saturday.
During his initial appearance by video Tuesday afternoon, a prosecutor asked for Whipple to be held without bail, in part because he is suspected in the disappearance of his niece.
Defense attorney Shannon Demler argued in favor of bail being set in the usual fashion, noting that Whipple has not been charged, and bail should be set accordingly.
Judge Kevin Allen said Whipple will be held without bail until Monday when a bail hearing will be held along with his arraignment.
Tuesday also marked day four in the search for Lizzy. Investigators have worked around the clock pursuing hundreds of tips as they come in, Jensen said. Some of the tips have been substantiated, some have not — but Jensen said he still wants people to contact police if they see something out of place.
Since Saturday, the search has expanded to include a wider area around the home and to other areas of the valley, with what appears to have been a heavy emphasis on land between Nibley and Hyrum.
Jensen said they have found a few pieces of “DNA-positive evidence” that link Whipple to his sister’s child outside of the home.
“From the evidence we have, we believe that Lizzy is hurt, but we don’t know what condition she is in right now,” he said.
Jensen said Whipple is the primary suspect in her disappearance, but he has not been charged in connection with the child’s disappearance, although police are working on building their case.
“I think our greatest concern right now is finding Lizzy for the family — we’ll deal with the charges later,” Jensen said.
Officers and volunteers from more than a dozen local, state and national law enforcement agencies have spent thousands of person-hours in the search for Elizabeth, Jensen said. He thanked those involved in the search, as well as those in the community who have donated food and drink for the searchers.
Other law enforcement agencies have sent so many searchers that Logan Police have their hands full coordinating their efforts, so volunteers from the community aren’t being accepted at this time. If the search extends past when those offers for help drop off, “that would be the point at which we then would reach out to the public and coordinate efforts to search via volunteers,” Jensen said.
In the meantime, police have asked people living between Logan and Hyrum to review footage from doorbell and home surveillance cameras. Anyone with tips regarding the case is asked to call (435)753-7555.