Crime & Courts

A volunteer urges police to lead a community-wide search for missing Lucas Hernandez

A billboard near downtown Wichita asked for help in locating 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez.  His body was found under a rural bridge in Harvey County in  May.
A billboard near downtown Wichita asked for help in locating 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez. His body was found under a rural bridge in Harvey County in May. File/The Wichita Eagle

A Colwich woman — partly motivated by her own young son's death — is publicly urging the Police Department to lead a communitywide search for 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez, missing for more than three months.

Sheila Medlam, an organizer of one of the volunteer groups looking for Lucas, said Wednesday that a wide and persistent search for Lucas puts psychological pressure on whoever might be responsible for Lucas’ disappearance and could help solve the case.

“I firmly believe that the people that are responsible for Lucas’ disappearance wish that he would just disappear and that everybody would forget him,” Medlam said. “We’re not going to let him disappear.” If people stop searching, she said, whoever might have harmed him “is going to feel that they just got away with it.”

Last week, Medlam helped launch an online petition — it can be found by going to the Facebook page FLH: Finding Lucas Hernandez. It urges the Police Department to do more to organize volunteers, to maximize the number of eyes that could be looking for any trace of Lucas, she said.

To its credit, she said, the department has responded by assigning a detective to keep track of volunteer searches and to promote the search efforts on Facebook.

She thinks the Police Department could be telling joggers to glance into ditches, fishermen to look along banks, farmers to watch out from atop their combines and Riverfest Medallion hunters to keep an eye out.

“And I don’t think our voice is loud enough to get that point across. But the Police Department does” have a voice that can be heard, she said.

With more people outdoors and with Riverfest, she said, “There are just a lot of requests that could be made now that would have an impact on the search for Lucas. … We haven’t seen them (police) asking for them.”

Although Medlam wishes that police would also tell volunteers where to search and what to look for, she said she understands that providing that information could interfere with the ongoing police investigation into the boy’s disappearance. She understands why police are for the most part silent about their investigation. “We do not want to damage the criminal case in an way.”

In a statement Thursday, the Police Department said it "has mobilized significant personnel and volunteers and searched thousands of acres related to this case. We continue to allocate personnel to this investigation and investigate every tip and lead. The FBI and other law enforcement partners have been assisting in this case."

"WPD will not stop looking for little Lucas and as information is obtained on possible whereabouts those areas will be searched. This case pulls on our heartstrings as well as our community’s. ... We cannot share certain information on this case as we do not want to jeopardize the integrity of the investigation."

At a May 17 briefing for reporters at City Hall, police Capt. Brent Allred said that while the department encourages people to search for Lucas, part of the challenge is that tips are not providing locations to search now. The department will try to help pass on information that can help with searches, he said.

“I know it’s difficult,” the captain said. “We have a great community with great people that are out there every day looking for him.”

If someone finds evidence, he said, they should call 911 so officers can respond quickly. Otherwise, information can be passed to homicide detectives at 268-4181 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers, 267-2111.

Police have said that Lucas’ stepmother, Emily Glass, reported him missing from their home in the 600 block of South Edgemoor around 6 p.m. Feb. 17, a Saturday. Glass, 26, told police that she awoke from a nap to discover him missing from the home. They had recently moved into the corner rental home. His father, Jonathan Hernandez, was away.

Police have said that they found no evidence of an abduction and that they don’t think Lucas, a prekindergarten student, just walked away.

Four days after Glass reported him missing, police announced that they arrested her on suspicion of endangering Lucas and her 1-year-old daughter, but prosecutors charged her only with endangering the girl. Last week, a jury found Glass not guilty of the misdemeanor charge involving the girl.

Medlam, a 44-year-old who works as a para-educator for families with autistic children, said part of her inspiration to help find Lucas flows from her own tragedy.

Eight years ago, her 5-year-old son Mason drowned in a neighbor’s pond. Mason was severely autistic.

In February, a few days after Wichita police searched Chisholm Creek Park for signs of Lucas, Medlam and her sister helped with a volunteer search of the north Wichita park, near K-96 between Oliver and Woodlawn.

Eventually, police stopped searching parks around Wichita. Since then, volunteer groups, including people from out of state, have mounted their own searches.

“I don’t care who finds Lucas,” Medlam said. “I just want Lucas found.”

The odds are challenging. Medlam said that a veteran searcher told her that every time volunteers look for Lucas, there is only a 5 percent chance they will find anything. But if they don’t, he told her, the chance is zero.

Lucas’ face has dominated the Wichita skyline, on a highway billboard downtown. His face and information about his disappearance have been shared across the internet.

“He is Wichita’s son,” Medlam said.

“But I think there is a whole country that has come to love him. They all want answers.”