Category: Simply Put

Simply Put – September 5, 2018

By Mike Whittlesey
Thank you, Chris.
Thank you, Tony.
As the public faces of the investigation into the disappearance of 16 year old Jake Wilson, La Porte City Police Chief Chris Brecher and Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson each had unique circumstances that challenged the work and the departments they led during the search for Jake over the past four months.
Appointed as the City’s first new Chief of Police in more than 30 years on March 26, Brecher had no way of knowing his first month on the job would include a missing person’s case that would quickly become headline news throughout the state. The mystery was equally challenging for Sheriff Thompson, as Jake’s case drew comparisons, fair or not, to the still unsolved abduction and murders of Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook from Evansdale in 2011.
Throughout the search for Jake and the investigation that accompanied it, Brecher and Thompson responded to the pressures of the situation exactly as we would hope all law enforcement professionals would- in an honest, forthright and compassionate way.
Both men would be the first to say how much help they have had from others along the way. And beginning on that fateful Sunday morning, when more than 800 volunteers turned out to look for Jake, what an incredible response it has been. The call to action from professional agencies and the contributions from individuals and businesses, near and far, was simply staggering.
At a time in our nation’s history when the actions of police officers are so often called into question, the La Porte City community and greater Black Hawk County can be thankful that law enforcement in our little corner of the world is synonymous with determination, integrity and character of the highest order.
The search for Jake certainly did not result in the outcome we wanted. But it did teach us a valuable lesson about what can be accomplished when communities come together for all the right reasons. Thank you, Jake.
“What a neat young man,” Sheriff Thompson said, reflecting on the special person whose life has touched so many others.
“And if the legacy is that if he, in a really unfortunate set of circumstances, has done a tremendous job of bringing this community together, then that’s a lasting legacy of something to be proud of, too,” he added.
Editor’s Note: In response to a request, Black Hawk County Emergency Management provided the following list of contributors who generously participated in some way during the effort to bring Jake home. While it cannot represent a comprehensive accounting of everyone who invested their time and energy to search for Jake, it nonetheless illustrates the vast, determined effort from so many to bring him home to his family.
Teams: American Red Cross, Iowa Task Force One, State Incident Management Team – Iowa Homeland Security, Christian Aid Ministries- Illinois, Dubuque Dive Team, Johnson County Dive Team, Search Dogs, Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Emergency Managers: Lorie Glover, Black Hawk County; Kip Ladage, Bremer County; Sean Snyder, Winneshiek County; Darrell Knecht, Howard County; AJ Seeley, Chickasaw County; Brenda Leonard, Jones County; Scott Hansen, Benton County; Lisa Roberts, Fayette County; Mindy Benson, Tama County; Brad Ransford, Linn County; Tom Ulrich, Linn County; Maureen Mehmen, Black Hawk County; Tom Berger, Dubuque County; Dave Wilson, Johnson County; Travis Beckman, Johnson County; Steve O’Koneck, Linn County; Jason Wickhizer, Shelby County; Josh Humphrey, Iowa County.
Fire Departments: La Porte City, Evansdale, Fayette, Cedar Falls, Dubuque, Raymond, Decorah, Gilbertville, Asbury, Dunkerton, Garrison, Hudson, Vinton, Decorah, Shellsburg
Law Enforcement: La Porte City, Black Hawk County Sheriff Dept., Cedar Falls, Evansdale, Hudson, Dunkerton, Waterloo, Iowa State Patrol, FBI
Donations: Black Hawk County Road Dept., Casey’s, Cavalier Car Wash, Chick-Fil-A, Coca Cola, Famous Daves, ECI Co-op (La Porte City), Hy-Vee #3, Kramer Sausage, La Porte City Golf Club, La Porte City Specialty Care, Olive Garden, Panera, Perkins, Pizza Palace, Randall’s Stop n Shop, Rocket’s Bakery, Royce Rottinghaus (Tables and Chairs), Scheels Cedar Falls, Scratch Cupcakes, Spahn and Rose – Jesup, Subway, Texas Roadhouse, Thriftway, Tootsies Ice Cream and More, Tysons, USS Polaris, Verizon.
All donations that were anonymous and private citizens.

Simply Put – August 22, 2018

In response to questions posed by reporters at last week’s news conference, La Porte City Police Chief Chris Brecher and Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson could not confirm that the human remains found along Wolf Creek were, in fact, La Porte City teen, Jake Wilson, missing since April 7. Their faces and carefully chosen words, however, told another story.
“We are confident that we are on the right path. What has been found is consistent with what we are looking for. It’s also been consistent on one of the areas we were expecting to find items,” Brecher said.
“As the Chief said, everything we’re finding and everything in the area we’re finding it is consistent with what we already had for information,” Thompson added.
Without a search for missing 20 year old Mollie Tibbets still underway, or thoughts of the Evansdale girls abducted and murdered in 2011 so fresh in everyone’s thoughts, perhaps there would not have been a news conference at all last week. By investigation standards, it was too early. Yes, a member of the State Medical Examiner’s Office was working alongside local law enforcement during the recovery of human remains. No, positive identification by means of DNA testing has not been done and likely won’t be completed for another couple of weeks. Still, there were hints.
“At some point on that Saturday evening he went to the creek and something happened. Those pieces and parts are in the area we would have assumed to found pieces and parts. It’s in keeping with exactly what we anticipated finding very early on. Why we didn’t find it very early on, I don’t know. That place has been combed, 16, 20, 30 times. But again, conditions are very different [now],” Thompson revealed.
Those unfamiliar with the oddities of Wolf Creek may wonder how extensive searches in the area failed to reveal human remains sooner. The impact weather has played in this investigation cannot be overstated. Changing seasons have also been a contributing factor. As noted by Thompson, brush along the creek now stands at least six feet high in places, obscuring any remains or clothing that may have found a resting place when the waters of Wolf Creek returned to their normal state after swelling beyond their banks in May and June.
The past four months have taken a tremendous toll on Jake’s family and the La Porte City community, as so many people have poured their hearts into bringing Jake home safely. If the State Medical Examiner’s office is able to confirm the human remains are, in fact, Jake Wilson, finding closure is no moral victory. This is not the outcome anyone wanted.
When the search for healing a grieving community begins, we can only hope the same outpouring of love and support, exhibited so freely on April 8, remains in the hearts and minds of the citizens of our fair city as we move forward.

Simply Put – July 25, 2018

Readers familiar with the layout of The Progress Review’s print edition may be surprised to find a much larger calendar section on page two of the July 25 edition. The Comprehensive Community Calendar, a summary of upcoming events for the next month, is a new feature that will be published in the last issue of each month. Rest assured, the weekly calendar feature will continue to appear in all other print editions published by The Progress Review.
The Comprehensive Community Calendar is purposefully designed to be clipped out of the paper and posted on your favorite bulletin board or refrigerator, assuming your fridge has a metal surface that is conducive to a magnet. Many newer models, sadly, do not find magnets attractive. This once-a-month publication comes in response to the Union Community School District’s decision to discontinue publishing the annual calendar and report mailed to all school district patrons each August.
As documented in The Progress Review over the past several years, the school district has taken numerous proactive steps to respond to a significant decline in enrollment, in an effort to manage the district in a fiscally responsible way. Reducing and consolidating teaching and administrative positions, overhauling transportation routes and streamlining the number of support staff, while not easy decisions to make, have been necessary because of the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding.
The decision to discontinue sending a calendar and printed newsletters to district patrons is not surprising. There are a considerable amount of resources that must be invested to produce the calendars and newsletters district patrons have enjoyed in the past. In addition to printing and postage, a tremendous amount of time must be invested by district personnel to create those publications. Those costs, along with the fact that many people now prefer to look online for information, as opposed to a printed page, make shifting school district resources to invest in the digital content that can be found at www.union.k12.ia.us, a logical move.
For those who look forward to hanging up a new printed calendar every August, The Progress Review’s Comprehensive Community Calendar is designed for you. Want to know what’s going on in the upcoming month? Pick up a print edition copy of The Progress Review on the last Wednesday of each month and clip out the calendar- we’ll do our best to keep you up-to-date. As with any calendar, please note that events are subject to change.
For those of you who prefer to look online, check out the calendar link on www.theprogressreview.co. Better yet, download our free app with direct access to calendar events- also available at www.theprogressreview.co.

Simply Put – May 9, 2018

By Mike Whittlesey
The success of local government depends upon more than just the handful of elected officials who are sworn in every four years. It’s even more than the dedicated individuals who serve as employees of the City. It’s true the importance of leadership from the mayor’s office and a responsive City Council working on behalf of the citizens they represent cannot be overstated. Equally important are the contributions city employees make each day to deliver essential and recreational services to residents of the City.
The real strength behind city government, though, the force that makes it work (or not work, in some cases) can be summarized in one word: people. When Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins visited Union High School last November, he spoke about the important role people play in a democratic republic form of government. In a true democracy, he explained, every citizen has a direct vote on deciding the laws of the land. In the United States, where the form of government is a republic, the responsibility for making laws is given to representatives chosen by the people. That means actively engaged citizens can make a big difference in how well the governing process plays out.
In La Porte City, there are a number of boards and commissions staffed by volunteer citizens who play an important role in serving the people of the community. It is interesting to note that the membership rosters of these boards (30) more than doubles the number of full-time City employees (13). Clearly, the active participation of La Porte City citizens is an important piece of the local government pie.
Given the voluntary makeup of these local boards and commissions, there are regular vacancies that naturally occur, as members’ terms expire. Currently, the City is looking for members to help fill openings on the Board of Adjustment, Parks and Recreation Commission and the Hawkins Memorial Library Board of Trustees.
If “too busy” or “not qualified” are thoughts that keep you from serving your fellow citizens as a member on one of these volunteer boards, please take a moment to reconsider that notion. When it comes to time, commitment to one monthly meeting is usually all that is required. And with a City staff member serving on each board as a liaison to assist members, caring about your community is the only real qualification needed.
It’s a particularly exciting time to serve on the Hawkins Memorial Library Board of Trustees, as the local library’s service to patrons, wealth of program offerings and circulation of materials continue to rank it near the top of its class among libraries throughout the state.
Additional information about the vacancies on the Board of Adjustment and Parks and Recreation Commission can be found on page online at www.lpcia.com.
For those who choose to serve their fellow citizens on the half-dozen boards and commissions related to La Porte City government, there is a sense of accomplishment knowing they are making the most of an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the community.
Try it. You just may like it.

Simply Put – May 2, 2018

It’s not often that the general public gets a peek “behind the curtain” when law enforcement is involved in an active investigation. Last week, though, in a guest column that appeared in the Waterloo Courier, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson did just that, reflecting on the massive search effort in La Porte City to locate missing teen, Jake Wilson.
As this edition of The Progress Review goes to press, the case continues to frustrate those who have been searching for Jake since the night of his disappearance on April 7. Despite the best efforts of thousands of volunteers, local police and firefighters, in addition to the highly trained agents that comprise an impressive task force, Jake Wilson remains among the missing.
In his essay, Thompson addressed the tremendous local response from area residents to help find Jake.
“Those good-hearted volunteers skipped work to help the search. They remained dedicated despite sometimes horrible weather conditions — snow, rain, hail, sleet, rising creek and river levels and 39-degree water that varied from a few inches deep to over your head.
“I am humbled and honored by their efforts.”
It’s one thing to have hundreds of people volunteer their time to search for a missing person. Managing such an effort, to ensure the search is carried out thoroughly and efficiently, is another matter altogether.
“The logistics of how to feed, outfit, keep safe, coordinate, assign locations, communicate and ensure proper equipment for so many staff and volunteers is easily lost when all you see are a few photos or a brief video on the evening news,” Thompson wrote.
In his guest column, Sheriff Thompson referenced the number of experts from around the nation who were consulted with during the early stages of the investigation.
“On day three, an expert from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was on scene. The former homicide detective from Chicago flew in during our first snow storm. He gave advice and provided information and assistance. He later wrote me that our staffs ‘implemented the most coordinated and thorough search and rescue operations I have ever witnessed. Everyone can hold their heads up high, knowing that all that could have been done, has been done.’”
“Chief Brecher and I worked tirelessly beside some of the bravest, finest, most dedicated professionals in the fire, police and EMS/EMA disciplines on this planet. Our volunteers gave us their very best efforts in unrelenting conditions. But I and my colleagues made a promise to the family. While I hold my head high for having been blessed to work with all these folks in very rough conditions, we have not yet done the one thing we promised to do — bring Jake home.”
As the search and investigation continues, La Porte City residents can be thankful for the exceptional effort and determination Sheriff Thompson, La Porte City Chief of Police Chris Brecher, the many investigators and emergency personnel continue to put forth in the effort to bring Jake home. As Sheriff Thompson wrote at the conclusion of his essay:
“The work continues until that time.”
 

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