State police to take over missing boy case

Relates to:
Date: 2002-10-11

Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)
Dateline: Oxford, Indiana
Matt Holsapple

Two months after an Oxford boy disappeared, the search for him will now be handled by the Indiana State Police.

The Benton County Sheriff's Department requested that the state police take over the investigation of the disappearance of 12-year-old Nicolas Zavala, who hasn't been seen since the beginning of August.

Nicolas' grandmother reported him missing on Aug. 13 after he did not return from a camping trip for which he had left a week earlier.

Investigators from the Benton County Sheriff's Department originally suspected he was abducted by his mother, who lives in Virginia, but she has since passed a polygraph test. Police first made the disappearance public when they expanded the investigation on Sept. 30.

ISP Sgt. Shana Kennedy stressed that the sheriff's department requested that the state police take over the investigation, not the other way around. She would not comment on the way the case had been handled thus far, but many people - including some in law enforcement - had been upset with what they saw as a bungled and delayed investigation.

Benton County Sheriff Ernie Winchester could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

ISP Cpl. David McDowell said it is not uncommon for agencies to ask the state police to take over investigations of major crimes. Two years ago, Indiana State Police acted as the lead agency in the investigation of the kidnapping and murder of Fowler attorney John Barce.

McDowell said that it does not mean that the sheriff's department was not handling the investigation well, but that the expanded resources of state police are needed. Without an order from the governor, the state police cannot force any law enforcement agency to hand over an investigation.

The state police, for instance, has contacts at every other police department in the state, as well as other state agencies across the country.

"We don't necessarily have more manpower," McDowell said. "What we have are the connections that can be really important."

Kennedy said state police detectives would use evidence that had been gathered by the Benton County Sheriff's Department, but they will approach it as a new case.

"Basically, we're going to start over on the investigation," Kennedy said.

Information sought

Nicolas Zavala, 12, is described as 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighing 90 pounds. He has hazel eyes and black hair with two distinct white patches near his right temple. He also has a noticeable scar on his right earlobe.

He was last seen when his grandmother dropped him off at the Oxford Public Library to meet two friends, Kevin and Heimie, and their uncle Randy for a camping trip. Their last names are unknown.

Anyone with information on Nicolas' whereabouts or the identities of Kevin, Heimie or Randy should call the Indiana State Police at (765) 463-1515 or (800) 382-7537.

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