"We are all grieving. We hurt for the families and believe me it touches the community deeply because it is a small community," said Jeff Rasanen, pastor of the Faith Assembly of God Church in Evansdale. "It's a sad time. We were just praying for a much better outcome."
In a posting on her Facebook page Thursday, Heather Collins, Elizabeth's mother, said it was not the outcome the family wanted but now "we know our girls are dancing up with our savior." Collins thanked the community for an outpouring of support.
At the girls' schools, additional counselors were made available Thursday for students and others, according to Sharon Miller, the Waterloo schools spokeswoman. Lyric would have been in fifth grade at Kingsley elementary in Waterloo and Elizabeth would have been in fourth grade at Poyner school in Evandsale.
The two were being watched by their grandmother at Collins' home in Evansdale when they went for a bike ride on a Friday summer afternoon. Surveillance footage and witnesses have confirmed that they were riding nearby. After they didn't return, relatives reported the girls missing hours later. A firefighter soon found their bikes near Meyers Lake, and a search that involved hundreds of volunteers and several police agencies ensued.
An FBI dive team brought in special equipment to search the lake days later, and the case was reclassified as an abduction after no sign of the girls emerged. Months passed — as did each girl's birthday — without any news as police chased thousands of tips and explored theories about what could have happened. Volunteers held prayer vigils and hung pictures of the girls. An anonymous donor last week pledged $100,000 for information leading to their return and the conviction of those responsible for their disappearance, on top of the $50,000 authorities had announced.
Authorities had asked hunters to look for the girls in remote woods and fields this fall. Jennifer Lancaster, chief law enforcement official for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in northeastern Iowa, said she believed deer hunters happened to come upon the bodies and called police.
"I think it's the first time someone happened to be in that particular spot," she said. She said she believed anyone who saw the remains would have reported them immediately because "that is certainly a case that has tugged the hearts of many people around northeastern Iowa."
Foley reported from Iowa City, Iowa.