December 05, 2016 05:20 AM
The news about the break in the Jacob Wetterling case this past summer gave other families hope they may finally get answers too.
One of those families is from the Iron Range.
Their daughter LeeAnna Warner has been missing for 13 years.
June 14, 2003 was a beautiful, warm early summer day in Chisholm, Minnesota.
Kaelin Warner and her 5-year-old daughter LeeAnna had been in nearby Side Lake, Minnesota at garage sales, returning home in the late afternoon.
"She was sleeping in the car, and I was emptying out the car, she got out of the car and I was trying to get her in the house and she wanted to go say goodbye to her friend, around the corner, and I said okay you've got 5 minutes," says her mother, Kaelin Warner.
It's the last time this brown haired, brown eyed, outgoing little girl has been seen.
"Two of the neighbors both verify they saw her knocking on the door and then walking away, both neighbors went back to what they were doing and that's where the mystery starts," says Chisholm Police Chief Vern Manner.
LeeAnna was walking down the sidewalk when she turned around the corner.
It was only about a block, block and a half away to her friends house.
It was about 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon but by 5-5:15 p.m. she was nowhere to be found.
For the first few hours Kaelin walked the streets of the small town knocking on doors.
Chris Warner, who'd been on an ambulance call, arrived back in town to help.
"It's just a helpless feeling, as we drove around town looking, that feeling got stronger and stronger," he says.
The only thing found were LeeAnna's shoes sitting outside on the front steps of her friends house.
"That always was an odd thing to us, we've had it investigated, looked at, but nothing has ever come of it," says Kaelin.
Investigators converged on the small community of 5,000.
With volunteers helping, they searched a 5 square mile radius around Chisholm, walking every trail, using cameras to look into abandoned mines, and a helicopter with heat seeking technology.
Search dogs picked up LeeAnna's scent at the edge of a road near a lake about a block from her house.
Volunteers walked shoulder to shoulder through the cattails in and around the lake.
Investigators even drained the lake to the point the chopper could see the bottom.
There were no signs of LeeAnna.
"The odds of her just walking off, aren't likely. The police department is under the impression that she was kidnapped? If you play the odds, yeah, she was abducted," says Chief Manner.
The most troubling thing for investigators, they have absolutely nothing to go on.
"One of the senior special agents with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who was around during Jacob Wetterling, and worked that case, told me this is the most frustrating case he has ever worked because there's nothing, it's a total vanishment into thin air," says Manner.
For years, the Warners stayed at their Chisholm home, always leaving their porch light on.
They eventually moved away. It was a difficult decision.
"For awhile when we moved from Chisholm I kept telling Chris, she won't be able to find us, she won't be able to find her way home because we'll be gone, and that was such a bad fear and it took awhile to get over that," says Kaelin.
Going back is even harder.
"It's eery, (going back to Chisholm) the thoughts and visions come floating up to the top. Do you ever go down the street? Oh yeah, oh yeah," says Chris.
The missing posters are still up around town, although 5 year old LeeAnna would now be 18.
"I still can't get the image of a 5 year old out of my brain, so I still look for a 5 year old. It's almost like you have a fear you won't recognize her, know what I mean? So that's a real difficult thing. Do you think you would recognize her if you saw her? I think I would feel it," says Kaelin.
Over the years police have gotten more than 1,700 leads.
"These are how we categorize everything, and there are 3 sets of these. So all these books are LeeAnna Warner leads? Yes, these are all LeeAnna Warner, every report, every lead that comes in here," says Chief Manner.
Manner, who was the lead investigator on the case in 2003 when LeeAnna went missing, has come to know the Warners.
"Clearly this impacts you, you know the family? Yeah. Do you think about this case daily? Weekly, sometimes daily, it all depends on what is coming in. You walk by the posters every day, you're reminded of it, its everywhere," says Manner.
"Will you get leads now because of this? Yes, that's what we're hoping to do. We're waiting for that person to feel remorseful and wants to clear the air and maybe bring closure to the family," he says.
And that's what the Warners want too.
Their over-whelming sadness has never dampered their determination to find LeeAnna.
"I want people to be aware of the fact we still haven't found her, somebody has to know something, what's gone on here, and I push at that person to step forward. I mean enough is enough here," says Chris.
Though they live in a new home now, this one is still filled with LeeAnna, and it has a porch light that won't go off until she comes home.
"You can't give up that hope, and I never will. I will never be put in a position where if she was to come walking through the door, I had given up and thought she was no longer with us. I won't, I refuse to do that and I've said that from day one," says Chris.
Police have always had people of interest, but with so little to go on, they've never had a suspect.
They ruled out the nearly 50 sex offenders who lived in the area at the time.
If you have a tip, police are urging you to come forward.
You can remain anonymous.
Updated: December 05, 2016 05:20 AM
Created: November 23, 2016 03:54 PM
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