Joseph Edward Duncan III
Search for Shasta and Dylan Continues
After the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department established two phone lines for citizen tips about the brutal slayings and child disappearances, more than 150 calls were logged within the first 12 hours. Volunteers had come forward to answer the phones in the department's emergency operations center, located in the basement of the sheriff's department headquarters building. Six volunteers were on the phones around the clock, taking calls from concerned citizens, friends of the family, and an occasional psychic trying to help with a thoughtful lead about where Shasta and Dylan might be found. Some of the tips came from parents whose children had known Shasta and Dylan, and they provided outdoor locations where they had sometimes gone to play. However, none of the tips led anywhere immediately or provided any information that might shed some light on why such a terrible thing had occurred in their peaceful county.
Search dogs occasionally picked up Shasta's and Dylan's scent at various locations over a wide area of hills and lakefront acreage, and near area ponds and streams which were searched with the aid of diving teams, to no avail. There simply was no sign of the children.
"We don't know if they're injured," Captain Ben Wolfinger told a reporter for the Spokesman-Review. "We don't know if they're hiding out, if they're so scared that they're afraid to come out. We want to search every nook and cranny."
Although the most viable leads were continually passed on to the makeshift command post, consisting of a white trailer stationed near the crime scene, none of them panned out.
As one day followed another, additional investigators from the FBI as well as from other local agencies joined in the murder investigation and the search for the missing children. The FBI also offered $100,000 in reward money for information leading to the safe return of the children and the capture of the person who abducted them. The case had quickly become the largest criminal investigation in Kootenai County's history.
Even though he was looked at initially as a possible suspect, as husbands always are in any homicide investigation where a spouse or ex-spouse has met a violent end, Steve Groene, Brenda's ex-husband and Shasta's and Dylan's biological father, was quickly ruled out as a suspect in both the murder investigation as well as the missing children investigation.
"Is he emotional already?" Wolfinger asked, as reported by the Spokesman-Review. "Yeah. Is he stressed? Yeah. Is he beside himself with grief? Yeah. However, there is no evidence to substantiate Steve Groene as a suspect or a person of interest."
Steve Groene, accompanied by relatives and friends, made an emotional plea for the safe return of his children on national television on Thursday, May 19.
"Please, please release my children safely," Groene said quietly, his voice hoarse from a lot of crying. "They had nothing to do with any of this. Release them in a safe area where law enforcement can find them. Call the help line. Let them know where they can be found."
Two days later America's Most Wanted ran a segment on its Saturday night, May 21, telecast which resulted in 19 tips being called in to the sheriff's department shortly after the program aired. However, none of the tips provided much hope to the investigators that they would find the children anytime soon.