Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.
Lisa Irwin, with her big blue eyes, vanished into the chilly night a decade ago. In the early morning hours on October 4, 2011, ten-month-old Lisa Renee Irwin disappeared from her home in North Kansas City, Missouri.
Deborah Bradley, Lisa’s mother, told police that Lisa’s father, Jeremy Irwin, discovered their baby missing at approximately 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday when he returned home from his night job.
According to Deborah, Lisa had been in her bed sleeping when she checked on her at 6:40 p.m. and 10:40 p.m. When Jeremy arrived home, he found several lights on in the home, a window open, and the front door unlocked. They also reported three cell phones were missing.
During the initial investigation, two witnesses came forward who claimed they saw a man walking down the street with a baby in a diaper. Police questioned the neighborhood handyman John “Jersey” Tanko, who had a history of break-ins, but he was not determined to be a suspect.
The Irwin home was searched by police on October 19, 2011. In court documents, it reflected a cadaver dog picked up the scent of a dead body, near the mother’s bed, that might have been Lisa. It would later be ruled out.
With the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Kansas City Police were seen digging in the backyard of the home and hauled out several bags of items.
“Some things were taken from the home but I can’t go into detail on what was taken or what was learned from the search yet, Captain Steve Young said in a statement. Should we learn something from this search that we think would benefit the case by making it public, we will definitely be all over that.”
Later, court documents would show, police seized purple shorts, a multicolor Disney character shirt, a multicolor comforter, a “Cars” themed blanket, a Glo worm, rolls of tape, and a tape dispenser, among other things.
Police also searched nearby wooded areas and a landfill. Working out of a Mobile Command Center, investigators lifted manhole covers and went house to house searching for Baby Lisa.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the search bringing with them the latest in technology and special investigations procedures. An AMBER Alert was issued which generated many leads but did not bring Baby Lisa home.
Deborah stayed quiet for nine days and then went on NBC’s Today Show where she admitted having been drinking “enough to be drunk” on the night her daughter vanished. She also admitted the last time she checked on Lisa was 6:40 p.m. not 10:40 p.m. as she initially told police.
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In a news interview with the Associated Press, Deborah said the police had accused her of being involved in her daughter’s disappearance and detectives said, “You did it. And we have nothing,” also claiming she failed the lie detector test.
On October 7, 2011, police announced that the parents were no longer cooperating with the investigation. However, both parents responded the following day on TODAY.
“We were in the station yesterday being interviewed again, and I just had reached my boiling point and asked them, ‘Guys, I can’t do this anymore today, I need a break, and I can’t answer any more questions,” Jeremy told the TODAY show host. “The next thing we knew was the press conference yesterday. We want to make sure that we tell everybody that we’re still cooperating, we’re still talking to police, (and) we’re still doing everything we can to try to find Lisa and bring her back home.”
Jeremy and Deborah announced an anonymous donor had hired a private investigator and set up a $100,000 dollar reward.
“We don’t have any hard feelings,” Deborah told TODAY host Matt Lauer. “We’re not mad. We understand this is what they [police] have to do. We’re not angry. We just want our daughter back.”
Just over a month after Lisa disappeared in the dead of night, Jeremy said his debit card was stolen. The card was suspended for a fraudulent charge of 69.04 and two other charges were attempted. He said the card was used on a British website that advertises a service to legally change the name of a child or adult. The Today Show confirmed the website existed.
Kansas City Police said at the time they were investigating their claim, but that it did not appear to be a lead that was very promising.
“I’m unhappy with what they’re telling me. It’s been too long. With this (stolen card) development, they’ve had it for a long time, and we still haven’t heard anything,” Deborah told Ann Curry of the TODAY show at that time.
Nothing ever came of this lead as well as many others. In fact, the night of Lisa’s disappearance, a phone call was made on Deborah’s phone to a woman who was Tanko’s girlfriend at the time, but Deborah never dialed that number and her phone was stolen that night.
Some think Kansas City Police Department failed to investigate leads properly, focusing instead on Deborah who is “credible and heartbroken” said her former attorney Cyndy Short.
“My gut tells me without any doubt that somebody unknown to the family who came into this home was in and out of the home very quickly,” Short told KCTV.
In April 2020, Lisa’s parents released a new age-progression photograph of their daughter. With the help of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Lisa’s baby photographs were computer age enhanced to nine years old using pictures of her parents and siblings around the same age.
“Statistically speaking, all the stuff we’ve seen online of age progressions and then later when the person was found, they’re fairly accurate like 85, 90% accurate, Jeremy told KCTV in 2020.
“Watching your child grow up through technology is never something a parent should have to go through,” Deborah told People in 2016. “But if that’s all we got right now, we’ll take that over nothing. We want to see her in person, and we want to take pictures of her ourselves.”
Lisa’s parents keep hope, even in times of despair, and hope the age-progressed photograph will bring Lisa home.
Ten years after Lisa went missing her parents were interviewed by KSHB News and said they believe Lisa’s abduction was premeditated as Jeremy hardly ever worked nights.
“I think that someone was paid to come into our home,” Jeremy said. “Our house was watched, and they waited for the perfect opportunity. I absolutely believe she was human trafficked.”
Despite the public scrutiny, Deborah remains adamant that she and her family had nothing to do with Lisa’s disappearance.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if we know it’s wrong,” Deborah told KSHB.
The public’s opinion used to bother her, but her “thick skin” has enabled her to make it through. Deborah and Jeremy still have hope and have left Lisa’s room the same as when she disappeared.
“When she comes home, she knows that we never stopped including her. We never stopped waiting for her, and she’s always been a member of our family, no matter what,” Deborah said.
The desperate parents hope social media and technology may be the key, and that she may now have access to a phone. They also hope the new DNA databases might crack the case and maybe she will end up submitting her own DNA.
Both parents have submitted their DNA to several databases, along with Deborah’s brother, hoping one day it will be matched to Baby Lisa.
“Our little girl is going to be 11 in November, and we don’t even know what she looks like, the stuff she likes, the sound of her voice,” Deborah told KSHB this year. “I feel she’s alive. She’s out there and eventually, she’s going to come home.”
Almost 11 years later, Kansas City Police Department said there are no suspects in the case and they would not elaborate on details of the case, saying only that Lisa’s missing child case and investigation are still active.
There is still a $100,000 dollar reward for information that leads to Lisa’s safe return.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Lisa Irwin, please call 816-234-5136 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2021 Kym L Pasqualini