http://www.omaha.com/article/20101208/NEWS01/712089884/102Missing student sent odd text
Published Wednesday December 8, 2010 By Martha Stoddard WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
PERU, Neb. — Five long days and four frigid nights have passed since Tyler “Ty” Thomas vanished from this out-of-the-way college town.
Before she disappeared, the Peru State College student sent a puzzling text to a friend.
The message, sent in the early hours Friday, said Thomas didn't know where she was.
Jade Gordon of Omaha, a Peru State senior and Thomas' cousin, said she had been sitting next to the person who got the text.
That message got Thomas' friends worrying about the 19-year-old's well-being, a worry that appears well-founded as the days pass without word or sign of the Omaha Bryan High graduate.
Authorities on Tuesday finished up another day of searching with nothing new to report, said Nemaha County Sheriff Brent Lottman.
Dogs were brought in to help law officers with the search.
Thomas was last seen about 1:30 a.m. Friday. She was reported missing about 3 a.m.
Volunteers from the college and the community joined officers for searches on Saturday and Sunday that covered areas within a three- to five-mile radius of Peru. Helicopters helped with the Saturday search.
Many steep hills and gullies covered with brush and trees run through and around the village, set in the Missouri River bluffs.
Peru State friends began looking for Thomas after getting the text message, Gordon said. They reported her missing soon after.
In retrospect, Gordon said, the message doesn't make sense.
According to authorities, Thomas was last seen walking the mile back to her dormitory from an off-campus party.
She appeared on a security camera crossing campus and was spotted about a block from her destination, near the town's water tower, about 1:30 a.m. The dormitory should have been visible from there.
Gordon said she has been told that her cousin made another phone call after sending the text. She said she doesn't know whom Thomas might have called, and there have been no contacts since.
Lottman would not confirm the reports of a text message and later phone call.
But he said authorities have followed up on all cell phone records. He said the phone company has cooperated with the search.
“We have explored everything out there,” Lottman said.
He said the Otoe County sheriff, Nebraska State Patrol and FBI are helping with the investigation.
A representative of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is on campus to assist law enforcement officers and the family, said Regan Anson, a Peru State spokeswoman.
Lottman said the FBI was brought in because of its expertise in missing person's cases, not because there has been a determination that foul play was involved in Thomas' disappearance.
“We're keeping all options open,” he said. “We're hoping that somebody knows something.”
Lottman said he was uncertain whether Thomas had been drinking the night she disappeared.
Family and friends dismiss any suggestion that the Bellevue student might have taken off on her own.
Thomas did not have a vehicle, she had left her purse and coat in her dorm room, and she had showed no signs of unhappiness, they said.
Thomas was known for her outgoing, fun and talkative personality. She recently found out she had been named captain of the college's newly formed dance team.
“She has family here. She has very, very close friends here,” said Ryan McClarty, a junior from Omaha.
Thomas' disappearance has Peru State students concerned, and they applauded the college's efforts to keep them updated on developments.
Elizabeth Busboom, a junior from Crete, said the campus has always seemed safe and friendly, but now she is “kind of paranoid.”
Peru State President Dan Hanson said the college has increased security since Friday, and he believes that has helped the mood on campus. He said what he hears from students is “hope, concern and uncertainty.”
Hope is definitely the watchword for Thomas' friends and family on campus.
“We don't really talk about her in the past tense,” Gordon said.