The investigation into the disappearance of Kyron Horman is in real trouble. The signs may seem obvious even to the most junior detective, but to the trained eye and finely tuned professional ear it is the subtle signs that are most troubling.
Kyron should have been found by now. Starting over would be good thing and couldn’t bring any less result. And starting over means going back to the place where it all started. So without trying to bring your technical expertise up to speed with my 34 years of experience, let’s just say the Sheriff and his investigators literally need to go back to school.
Big time unsolved crime investigations are in trouble, not when investigators are out of answers, but when they are out of questions. When that happens an investigation is in a full stall. Why is that? Simply put: the trail has gone cold. The fact that notes are being sent home to parents mean we have at least run out of direct questions to ask direct players. Not that the parents at Skyline School don’t matter, but it is unlikely at this point these parents hold the key to closing this case.
The Kyron case lacks physical evidence and witnesses. Tracking a crime without evidence and witnesses is like tracking a wounded animal without a trail or a scent. It can be done, but you need expert trackers. Tracking this suspect or suspects, then, must rely upon the instincts and training of the investigators and the experienced oversight of their command. Investigators need to know when to stop the track, retrace the trail, review the facts and rethink the assumptions made when they started, otherwise they’ll find their investigation at a dead end. When the trail is cold and the past track is still guiding the investigation, you are lost. It is time to get back to the trail head.
From the outset the assumptions made or at least demonstrated by the initial actions of the Sheriff’s Office have to be considered at least partially responsible for the cold trail.
- Launching a 100% Search and Rescue operation that should have been no more than 50% search and rescue and at least 50% criminal investigation.
- Operating only under the assumption Kyron was still alive.
- Placing a Sheriff’s Office Captain in the home of the family.
- Focusing on one person as a suspect.
A “Big Mistake:”
Placing a Sheriff’s Office Captain in home with the family was a big mistake in shaping the mind set of the investigating agency and their initial assessment of the facts in play in the first hours. Further it complicates use of statements as evidence made to that Captain and other members of the investigating team by any person in that environment and beyond who may later become a suspect in the disappearance. It also holds the potential to poison any other evidence direct and indirect gained as part of that contact.
“Mistakes and Ego:”
Focusing on one person as a “suspect” (without saying so) has been a mistake. The initial stage of a criminal investigation is to eliminate potential suspects. When you focus an investigation on only one person without facts, bad things often happen. The best thing that might happen is that the evidence proves you correct or–worst case–and you shape the evidence to prove yourself correct and the innocent take the wrap. Don’t ever believe that does not happen, it does. More troubling, it is often the result of poorly directed investigations and over blown investigative and prosecution egos usually set in motion from the starting gun of the investigation.
“Rushing to Judgment:”
Critical to initially interviewing persons in criminal investigations is to have a clear understanding how much access you are likely to have over the investigation. For instance, you may only get one shot at a person you consider a person of interest or a suspect before they lawyer up. So when you take that first run at a key player you’d better be ready to capture as much detail as you can. Initial statements are the trail which produce solid leads or attempt to cover the tracks on the trail by clouding the truth. In this model the innocent go free and those who press the truth are impeached.
By initially treating the Hormon Family only as victims the Sheriff’s Office set the investigation on the wrong trail by taking one fork in the trail without considering the others.They have had their shot at Terri Hormon and will likely not get another unless there really is a Santa Claus. That is not to say Terri Hormon is solely responsible or responsible at all for Kyron’s disappearance, but if she isn’t, based on the the Sheriff’s Office investigative strategy, we must have seriously missed something. They ill-prepared for the initial launch of the investigation and now ill advised to proceed.
“Back to Where it Started:”
So it’s time to go back to the trail head. Return to Skyline School. Investigators need to enter the doorway and return to the hallway where our “not person of interest and the not suspect” says she last saw the victim. They need to stand in that hallway and recall her words and use those instincts as they imagine her looking at Kyron for the last time. Investigators need to go over Terri Horman’s original statements and weigh them against what makes sense. For example: Could she see what she said she saw from where she said she was standing?
Did she say there was an adult male with Kyron as she stated she believed to be the situation as she was leaving and he was going to this classroom. If she did surely the male has been identified and can confirm her account. If we can’t confirm that person’s identity, then what? In fact surely the investigative team took Terry back to that very hallway to recount her memory of the events of the Friday in the hours or not later than a day immediately following Kyron’ disappearance and before she lawyered up. If not why not ?
This is a long way of saying this investigation needs to begin again. From before the Science Fair to where the investigation is now stalled, every assumption, presumption, and relationship has to be re-examined ego free. These are fine investigators with the skills to solve this crime. I know, they all worked directly with me.
“Personal Message to Investigators“
So let me talk directly to them just as I would have done in the days when we had a everyday common purpose.
It takes real cops to say we missed something and we have. You have overlooked a fact, misread an innuendo, or most likely missed a distant relationship. The real answer is still out there. You need not to worry that the end game is still in play. Don’t let what we have said get in the way of now saying we want to rethink why we said it.
Earlier I used the word contest. You and I know that is exactly what this challenge presents. Not a contest of strength or speed but a contest of wills and wits. Like any contest of wits however the will to win means having the insight to know that the game plan may have to be rethought and the road less traveled until now pursued.
It is your will to win that contest against the cowards who committed this crime. Remember everyday they fear you will discover their mistakes. Within that fear is where their mistakes were made.
This is a crime. Have courage to just say so. In the end the people of this county and well beyond know it. What they are only counting on you is to prove you are the smartest guys in the contest. More importantly justice for Kyron alive or not depends on it. While starting again, however, it’ll cost you some professional pride. In the end refusing to start over will have much more serious consequences for the confidence placed in our profession.”
As for the rest of us, as the New Year turns let’s wish the best for Kyron and believe the Sheriff’s Office is not above going back to school.
Bernie Giusto is former Multnomah County Sheriff, Police Chief of Gresham, and OSP officer.
Tell ’em where you saw it. Http://www.victoriataft.com