ENDANGERED: 11-year-old Colorado boy has been missing for more than 3 weeks

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EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - The search for a missing 11-year-old boy is now into its fourth week.

Photo courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

Gannon Stauch has not been seen since Jan. 27. Initially listed as a runaway, the status was upgraded to missing-endangered on Jan. 30, the third full day to pass without sign of the boy. Law enforcement continues to call it a missing persons case and has neither said if they suspect foul play or named any suspects.

11 News asked authorities on Monday if there was any information on a possible reward leading to the location of Gannon. As of Monday, no reward is being offered by law enforcement.

Searchers both law enforcement and civilian have numbered in the hundreds.

"It's everyone saying, 'You know, we believe something can be done,' and we're all here to do it," said John Wilson, a drone pilot and member of Gannon's church, who says he's been recording aerial footage "24/7" in hopes of finding the child.

Lorson Ranch, the neighborhood southeast of the Colorado Springs Airport where Gannon calls home, is covered in blue lights and blue ribbons as families cling to hope he'll return.

“Gannon’s favorite color is blue, and so we’re turning the neighborhood blue. Just kind of a, you know, spiritual beacon to come back to us. To see we all care, we’re all thinking about you. We all want to see you again," Wilson said.

Not a criminal investigation

Investigators say they are not at a point where they can call the investigation criminal.

When asked Feb. 10 at what point the Gannon case would change from a missing persons case to a criminal case, El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby responded, "When the investigation leads us in that direction, and we're not there."

She said the same during an interview on Feb. 12.

That hasn't stopped speculation from running rampant, especially after multiple sightings of the Colorado Springs Police Department Metro Crime Lab at the Stauch family home.

In one such appearance at the home on Feb. 5, 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May accompanied the crime lab.

The sight of the region's leading prosecutor at the missing boy's home prompted questions over the status of the case. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office maintained the case was still a missing-endangered case and not a criminal investigation.

"DA May being in Stauch home does not change the ongoing efforts in the search for Gannon," the sheriff's office wrote on Twitter. "There are no new updates to report at this time. Our priority remains bringing Gannon home safely to his parents and the investigation continues."

The sheriff's office previously said that the Metro Crime Lab is used in all kinds of investigation, both criminal and not.

"The crime lab is used to, again, get pieces. That’s a part of the investigation," said Sgt. Deborah Mynatt with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. "That’s what they’re used for. So they’re out there and ensure they’re doing this with the proper measures. They’re using gloves and doing different things because they might come across something that might be part of the investigation. ... We get pieces of information that might not be criminal, that might just lead to where [Gannon] might be. Those kinds of things. So when we get pieces of evidence, it has to be maintained and protected and, again, that's why we might use crime lab. They're really good with that they're experts in the field, and that's why we do that, so it might not be criminal."

The sheriff's office said Feb. 10 that they do have persons of interests, defined as "anyone with information as to Gannon's whereabouts or what lead up to his disappearance."

They have not named any suspects.

Addressing the rumor mill

The search for Gannon has made national headlines and brought people across the country into Facebook groups dedicated to both discussion and amateur sleuthing.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has addressed the amount of speculation in the case multiple times, explaining that while it may be well-intentioned, unsubstantiated rumors are slowing down the investigation.

"Speculation is one thing, and theories and these kinds of ideas is one thing for someone to have. When they provide that to the sheriff's office, we take it seriously," Mynatt said in an interview Tuesday. "So any information to any law enforcement agency, if you have a tip or a lead, we have to vet each of those, we have to ensure that it is factual, and it takes time away from our detectives to try to figure out if this is a good lead or if it's not."

The sheriff's office released a more strongly-worded statement later that night.

"The misinformation that is being spread on social media is a hindrance to this investigation and adds additional burden to the family. Any information that is prematurely released and is not directly from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is not a credible source. Any pertinent information on this case will be put out as the investigation allows."

The sheriff's office took direct aim at social media rumors following May's appearance at the home Feb. 5.

"Contrary to rumors surfacing on social media, there have been no arrests in the Gannon Stauch case, and there will be no press conference today. Credible information regarding this case will only be released from EPSO as the investigation allows," the office wrote on Twitter.

The sheriff's office does encourage the public to come forward if they believe they saw or heard something that could be relevant to the case.

"Even the smallest piece of information may prove valuable in solving this case and could consist of things as simple as anyone remembering suspicious vehicles or people they saw in or around the area on the date."

But warned against calling in with baseless suggestions, no matter how well-meaning.

"Somebody called in and told us to check every trunk in the city," Mynatt said, giving an example. "We have to then take that, log it in, put it all in, then have a conversation with someone else on if we are going to do this, if we are going to take this lead. That takes precious time away from the investigation.

"We are not asking for suggestions, we are not asking for theories or speculation. We are asking for factual information that you saw with your own eyes.

"If you waste the time of these detectives you’re taking time away from the potential of us finding Gannon and it’s so important that you understand that.”

Scroll to the bottom of this page to view the Feb. 12 interview with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. If viewing on our app, click "Additional Content Available.

A sighting on video

Feb. 3, exactly one week after Gannon's disappearance, a neighbor came forward with home surveillance video that may be the last image captured of the young boy.

11 News is honoring the El Paso County Sheriff's Office's request not to show the video or discuss details about the video that cannot be confirmed by the sheriff's office.

"This video may be a big part of the investigation," said Sgt. Deborah Mynatt with the sheriff's office. "... We hope it will not jeopardize the investigation, but the reason we asked [media[ not to [air the video] was because there is potential for that."

The surveillance shows a driver and passenger getting into a truck the day Gannon went missing. The truck leaves and returns a few hours later, around 2:30 p.m. Only one person gets out.

It's unknown if there are any other clips of the truck captured on surveillance that same day, and the sheriff's office has not commented if Gannon was seen on any other neighborhood surveillance. Mynatt encouraged neighbors to go through their own videos.

"If you do have those video cameras and you live in that neighborhood, we absolutely ask that you look through those, and I know that some of them are timed out. You know, seven-day captures and things like that, so it might not just be a thing to focus on Monday, focus on the days prior. Anything, any bit of information, is very valuable to this case and to provide that to us."

Neighbor Rodderick Drayton, who found that potentially-crucial video, said he spent hours going through footage and knew when he saw it that he should call the FBI.

11 News reporter Catherine Silver: "And then detectives came out pretty quickly?"
Drayton: "They came out and looked at my camera."
Silver: "What did they tell you?"
Drayton: "That's the break they needed."

Where the search stands three weeks in

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has not revealed every location they have searched but has provided media with some information.

Feb. 18 marked the first time in days there was no active search for Gannon.

The sheriff's office wants to make it clear that they are not scaling back, and that not searching on the 18th doesn't mean they are not still looking for him. Kirby told 11 News they were focused more on the investigation side of the case that day, and that the investigation and search will continue to run parallel as they get tips and information.

Kirby said that there are several people working the case that as of the 18th, haven't had a day off since Gannon went missing.

The search moved northward Feb. 12 into northern El Paso County and southern Douglas County based on "tips and leads that we're getting in that told us that's an area we should direct our attention to," Kirby told reporters in a briefing. She said it was one of the places searchers were looking in that day but did not give information on where the other places were.

The search continued over the weekend of the 15th-16th in a 35-acre area in Larkspur. The sheriff's office said the Larkspur search was not the only one going on over the weekend but would not disclose the other locations. The office would also not say why they were searching such a specific and distant location.

The weekend of the 8th-9th, the sheriff's office confirmed its search centered around Lorson Ranch.

"Deputies recanvassed Gannon's neighborhood and spoke with neighbors," the sheriff's office said in its daily news release Feb. 9. "We did this in a systematic approach to ensure all residents have been interviewed because some may have been away at the time of the initial canvassing. Those who are in the immediate vicinity of an incident may have useful information to provide."

Prior to that, on Feb. 6, Colorado Parks and Wildlife used a remote-controlled submarine device with sonar to search bodies of water in the area, specifically honing in one small pond near Colorado Springs. The location of that pond was not disclosed publicly.

On Feb. 3, the search was centered on the area of 2743 E. Las Vegas St. "based on information gathered from the investigation," the sheriff's office said.

As of Feb. 16, the sheriff's office says it has received 555 tips in the case. The office says it continues to vet and follow up on each lead that comes in. Every search effort comes from a tip they have decided might be credible.

Along with citizen volunteers, the following agencies have assisted with search efforts since Gannon's disappearance:

4th Judicial District Attorney's Office
Army 4th Engineer Battalion (in 100 percent non-duty volunteer status)
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado Springs Fire Department
Colorado Springs Police Department
Douglas County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue
El Paso County Public Works
El Paso County Search and Rescue
Emergency Incident Support
FBI CARD (Child Abduction Rapid Deployment)
Flight for Life (searching purposes only)
Fremont County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue
Fountain Police Department
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
National Guard 100th Missile Defense Brigade (in 100 percent non-duty volunteer status)
Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management
Salvation Army
Verizon Wireless
Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD)

The sheriff's office is no longer accepting applications for volunteers as of Feb. 12. With more than 500 citizen volunteers, the sheriff's office announced they do not anticipate needing any more. The sheriff's office said it be reaching out to people in that pool as the need arises.

Endangered

For the first few days, Gannon was labeled a runaway. The status was upgraded to "endangered missing child" on Jan. 30, the third full day that Gannon was missing.

"There’s a number of factors in this case," said Lt. Mitch Mihalko with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office when explaining during a news conference that day on what led law enforcement to upgrade the missing persons status. "Obviously we’ve been having cold weather, so the weather was one issue. The time frame ... is another issue. The fact that he’s under the age of 13, he’s 11 years old, and he also has specific medication that he takes, so we want to make sure that all those resources are being poured into finding him."

In the two weeks since the case was upgraded to missing-endangered, the sheriff's office says they remain hopeful Gannon is still alive.

"The belief is that he is still alive, and our goal is to bring him home safely to his family," Kirby said in the Feb. 12 media briefing.

Investigators say they have persons of interest, which they defined as anyone with information on Gannon's whereabouts or what led up to his disappearance. None of these persons of interest have been identified.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) deployed a consultant from their "Team Adam" program to help. The program, named for the abducted and murdered son of NCMEC co-founders John and Revé Walsh, provides rapid, on-site assistance to law enforcement (LE) agencies and families in critical cases of missing children.

Kirby said Feb. 12 that they are exploring every possible scenario of what could have happened to Gannon, including the possibility he was abducted.

An emotional plea

In a tearful video message released by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Wednesday, Gannon's mother and father implored anyone with potential information to come forward.

"I'm urging anyone that has any leads, credible leads -- if you’re too afraid because you know something -- a kid just doesn’t disappear and no one sees him. That doesn’t happen. That’s not how this works," said Landen Hiott, Gannon's mother. "So if you have anything that's credible, if you're afraid, don't worry. Imagine my son. Imagine how afraid he is. Imagine how afraid Gannon is. So please call, please write, if you need someone else to do it for you. please do, because my son deserves to be here. He deserves to be here."

"The past eight days have been, as Landen said, a rollercoaster of emotions," said father Al Stauch. "Sometimes we’re jumping for joy because we get information that we might think is a break in the case, and then the next minute we get info, we see something or we get information that just breaks our hearts into a million pieces again.

"... Please keep sending your thoughts and your prayers because we are receiving them and if you have any information, any information at all that could help, please reach out to the El Paso County Sheriff’s office with only credible information, but any information that you think may help.”

"I’m afraid that I will never hear his voice. That I will never hear him run and say ‘Mommy.’ That I will never hear those corny jokes that he always -- every single day he has to tell me a joke. He looks forward to telling me something silly and I’m afraid that I might never see that again or hear it. I don’t want to believe that because that means that I’m giving up hope and I’m not giving up hope because my son is full of hope," Hiott said.

Scroll to the bottom of this page to view the family's video. If viewing on our app, click "Additional Content Available.

Trusting the process

The sheriff's office says they know how invested the public has become in the case and understand the community's desire to know as much as possible.

But they maintain that they cannot release more information than they already are without compromising the investigation.

"Unfortunately, we live in a society where the need to know is more than it has ever been in that demand to know ... there is nothing that the sheriff's office is going to release to satisfy the public curiosity over and above what we have because that would compromise the integrity of this investigation. And we're not going to do that to Gannon and we're not going to do that to Gannon's family," Kirby said on Feb. 18.

Stepmother speaks out

Rampant online speculation has centered on Tecia Stauch, the last person to see Gannon.

In an exclusive interview with 11 News reporter Spencer Wilson, she said she was lying low because her family had received death threats, but maintained she had nothing to hide.

"The rumors have gotten so bad," she told Wilson. "I'm like, 'Why are you saying Gannon is dead?' He is not dead. We are gonna find Gannon."

She told Wilson she was not allowed to talk about anything concerning the case but did confirm she took Gannon hiking at Garden of the Gods before he disappeared.

"There was comments about Gannon getting pushed off the hike and comments about this and that. That's not true."

She accused the public of an outsized focus on herself, including looking for all the dirt they could in her background.

"I have spent my whole entire life working in education. There are even things online about my education license and I 'shouldn’t even be a teacher' ... they just don’t even know that. We moved on a military move, and I didn’t finish out my contract so I gave up my license in that state. It had nothing to do with criminal activity or anything, it just got blown out of proportion on my professional status.

"... I am going to be so ecstatic when I am able to say to people that they should have a really sincere apology for all of these theories that have come out online. For all the things that people have said I have done or people have done.”

"I love him so much," she said of her stepson. "I have helped take care of him for so long. Gannon is so kind, he loves to play video games that is one of his favorite things, he loves Sonic and Mario and you know he is always helpful and always so helpful with the dogs around the house."

She said she wanted the public to know they were all on the same side.

"That is the main goal we all have, my family has, just because you haven’t seen us, we have that same goal, we have been out searching, my aunt has been out searching, my family has been out searching.

"... We should all come together, wait until the end, and see what happens because Gannon is going to come home."

You can watch more from the interview by clicking on the video at the top of the page.

The sheriff's office told 11 News Feb. 12 that everything people close to Gannon have said or continue to say will be investigated, meaning Wilson's interview is has also become part of the case.

The sheriff's also confirmed that the rumored inconsistencies in Stauch's account are another piece in the large puzzle.

Timeline

The timeline from the moment Gannon was reported missing to the decision to upgrade the preteen to an endangered missing child was outlined by the sheriff's office as followed:

Monday, Jan. 27
- 6:55 p.m., El Paso County Sheriff's Office dispatch receives call of runaway child, 6600 block of Mandan Drive.
- 7:32 p.m., Gannon Stauch entered into state and national databases as active runaway
- Last seen between 3 and 4 p.m. on the 27th
- Nothing found on initial search

Tuesday, Jan. 28
- 12:29 p.m., case turned over to EPSO investigators
- Detectives conduct interviews, collect surveillance, follow up on additional leads

Wednesday, Jan. 29
- Investigation continues

Thursday, Jan. 30
- Upgrade case from runaway to endangered missing child
- EPSO requests resources from NCMEC and FBI Crimes Abduction Rapid Deployment Team

Mynatt said that investigators were looking at every part of the timeline step by step.

How you can help

Gannon is described as 4-foot-9 and 90 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. His youth pastor and others who know him described the boy as sweet and kindhearted with an independent streak.

If you see him, please call the El Paso County Sheriff's Office right away at 719-390-5555 or 911.

If you have any information that can help in this case, call EPSO's tipline at 719-520-6666 or email shrtips@elpasoco.com. The sheriff's office asks the public not to send tips through social media platforms because that slows down the investigation.

The office reiterates that all submitted tips need to be credible, not based on speculation or rumor.

Those living in the Lorson Ranch neighborhood are reminded to "be mindful of and check areas on your property a child may hide to include yards, window wells, outbuildings and culverts."