Information released by Cody police indicates the man is suspected to be a sexual predator.
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation are assisting the Cody Police Department with the investigation.
On Thursday, the FBI released screenshots taken from surveillance camera footage showing what they believe is the suspect's vehicle. Regional FBI spokesman Dave Joly said that based on footage and witness interviews, the bureau believes the vehicle is a 2004 or 2005 white, 4-door, Toyota SR-5 4-Runner. Joly said police later recovered a silver over black Thule car top carrier on Monday that they believe had been on top of the vehicle.. The front seats of the vehicle are believed to be of a leather-type material, with an open back compartment area that contained bedding for what police think may have been a short-term set-up.
The suspect is described as a white man between 55 and 60 years old, 185 to 200 pounds, with strawberry blond or white hair and a neatly trimmed mustache or beard, according to Cody police.
The man should be considered armed and extremely dangerous, Joly said.
"We are asking anyone who may observe this individual or the described vehicle to contact law enforcement immediately and not approach this person," he said.
The girl and two friends were in front of the Park County Complex at around 3:45 p.m. Monday when a man reportedly asked them to help him find a missing Labrador puppy, Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam said in a news release based on the elementary schoolers’ statements. According to the girl, when she approached the man’s vehicle, he brandished a pistol and told her to get in his passenger seat.
One of the girl’s friends, another 11-year-old, reported the incident to police at about 4:30 p.m.
At about 6:45 p.m., a statewide alert was issued to find the missing girl.
At 8:15 p.m., a group of hunters reported finding the girl walking down Spirit Mountain Road, also known as the Carter Mountain Access Road, outside of Cody, Rockvam said. She has been reunited with her family.
The girl told police that the man had taken her to the Carter Mountain area and ultimately released her, at which point she began walking down the road.
The incident sent shockwaves through the area. Many users of the social networking site Facebook posted pleas for help in finding the girl while the search was under way, and anger after she was found and the new manhunt began.
“We are tight knit, most of us know each other, we have amazing cops that we call friends, and we are all connected one way or another. We are a deeply giving and loving community. We protect our children and provide them with good schools, a great library, and wonderful recreational opportunities,” wrote Cody mother Sarah Mikesell-Growney in a Facebook posting that was shared by several others. “When someone disrupts and violates our wonderful community in such a vicious, shocking and unsolicited way, we are all touched, and it’s OK to be upset or hurting.”
A candle light prayer vigil was set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night in the parking lot of the Cody Recreation Center, across from the Park County Complex in Cody.
“I think the whole community — and when I say the community, I mean the whole (Big Horn) Basin — feels this,” said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt. His department is not directly involved in the investigation, but Powell police have been fielding tips from citizens on the lookout for the suspect.
“This (crime that occurred) is within our comfort zone, and I haven’t had anyone whose hearts don’t go out to the family,” Eckerdt said, adding, “This is something we think of happening somewhere else.”
Park County School District No. 6 boosted staffing outside all of its Cody schools to assure students and parents, said Superintendent Bryan Monteith.
“We still have a great deal of concern for the fact that we don’t know where the perpetrator is,” Monteith said on Wednesday, adding, “Even if he is apprehended, as a precaution we’ll continue to provide extra staffing, for both safety and psychological reasons.”
He said the district will continue to act with increased precaution until the situation is something “we can classify as routine.”
District counselors have been pulled from their normal duties to serve as on-the-spot counselors for students.
Monteith said there have been many questions from parents, and he said district officials have assured them that student safety is their top priority.
He said the school district has a great relationship with the Cody Police Department and that Rockvam has been great to work with.
Meanwhile, principals at all of the Powell schools — particularly those at the three elementary schools — met with their staffs early Tuesday morning to go over procedures and to emphasize extra awareness of tardies and absences, said Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell.
Information was sent to teachers on Tuesday for teaching students about talking with strangers, and information also will be sent to parents, Mitchell said. Each school has people on site every day for bus and playground duty, and nothing was changed this week, he said.
The abduction was the top topic of discussion in Park County on Tuesday, with residents expressing concern for their children’s safety, support for the abducted girl and her family and some wishing harm to the man responsible.
The Cody Police Department’s log for Tuesday showed a number of reports of individuals possibly matching the description of the suspect. The reports were checked out, but none of the men in the reports were the man police are seeking, or they weren’t located.
Here in Powell, “We’re getting lots of reports on vehicles similar in description, and we, of course, respond to all of those and check them out,” said Chief Eckerdt.
So far, nothing has come of them.
“There’s an amazing number of white SUVs with black rooftop carriers in the area,” said Eckerdt. “That being said, we don’t want to explain anything away. We don’t want to leave anything unturned, so we don’t want to discourage anyone from calling, at all.”
For folks who may match the description of the suspect, or of the suspect’s vehicle, and have nothing to do with the girl’s abduction, Eckerdt asked for understanding — which he said people have given. In most instances, it only takes a few minutes — at most — for officers to determine he’s not their man, Eckerdt said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Cody police at 307-527-8700 or the FBI national tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).
(Tribune Staff Writer Dante Geoffrey contributed reporting.)