With a suspect in custody and one kidnapping victim safe at Kootenai Medical Center, investigators are sorting through a “mountain” of new evidence in an effort to find 9-year-old Dylan Groene, authorities said Sunday.
But investigators reiterated that they don’t expect to find him alive.
Investigators have flown to Fargo, N.D., seeking clues in the slaying of Brenda Groene, Mark McKenzie and Slade Groene seven weeks ago near Wolf Lodge Bay and the disappearance of Groene’s youngest children, 8-year-old Shasta and Dylan.
Shasta Groene was spotted about 1:30 a.m. Saturday when she entered the Denny’s restaurant on Fourth Street in Coeur d’Alene with a 42-year-old man later identified at Joseph Edward Duncan III, a level 3 registered sex offender from Fargo.
An employee and a customer at Denny’s called 911 to report the sighting. A waitress delayed their departure by making Shasta a milkshake. When Coeur d’Alene Police arrived, they confirmed Shasta’s identity and took Duncan into custody on charges of kidnapping and on a fugitive warrant.
Shasta was taken to KMC, where she was reunited with her father, Steve Groene. She is undergoing tests at the hospital, being interviewed by authorities and watching animated movies, according to family members.
“She seems to be in pretty good spirits,” Steve Groene told Geraldo Rivera in an exclusive interview aired on the Fox News Channel Sunday evening. Groene is spending nearly all his time, day and night, with his daughter.
While Shasta has been sharing information with a detective, Duncan has not, said Kootenai County Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger. Duncan invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Wolfinger said that until Duncan changes his mind, or gets a lawyer, investigators will not be talking with him.
Duncan is to appear in court at 2 p.m. Tuesday, at which time a public defender is expected to be appointed to represent him.
Shasta’s uncle, Bob Price, said she may remain in the hospital several more days: “As we can imagine, her psyche is pretty fragile at this point.”
In a brief statement, Steve Groene said he wasn’t sure how long Shasta would be in the hospital.
Her condition is better than the family expected, Price said. “She’s a tough gal. She’s a scrapper. She’s got a lot of Groene in her. God knows what she’s been through.”
Authorities are not saying if they think Duncan is responsible for the killings in May, which they believe Shasta and her brother witnessed.
The focus now is on finding Shasta’s brother, Dylan, but the prospects of his being alive are not good.
“Based on the information investigators were able to put together yesterday in totality leaves them to believe Dylan is dead,” Wolfinger said. “That’s why we are working so diligently right now to verify that or find out that it’s not true.
“Frankly, I’d be more than happy to stand up here and say it’s the biggest mistake we ever made, but unfortunately we don’t think it’s going to be.”
Steve Groene said he’s holding out hope that Dylan will be found alive.
Investigators also are trying to figure out where Shasta and Dylan have been since the slayings on May 15 or 16, with several possible locations under scrutiny in North Idaho and Montana. They also are looking into what ties, if any, Duncan had to the Groene family, he said.
Family members said they don’t know Duncan, whose Fargo apartment was searched over the weekend by Fargo police and Idaho investigators. “I’m sure there’s no connection there,” Price said.
Duncan left Fargo in April. He is wanted by Minnesota state authorities after being charged in March with second-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct. He’s also wanted on separate charges stemming from last year.
As a level 3 sex offender, Duncan is considered to be at high risk of reoffending. He spent 14 years in a Washington state prison after raping a 14-year-old boy at gunpoint in Tacoma. He spent another three years behind bars for parole violations. He was released in 2000 and moved to Fargo where he registered as a sex offender.
Last year, he was charged with sexually molesting a 6-year-old boy at a playground in Detroit Lakes, Minn. He appeared in court in April on the charge and was released after posting a $15,000 bond, according to The Forum newspaper in Fargo.
Duncan then left the area without notifying authorities. Local authorities searched his apartment on May 5 and a federal warrant was issued on June 1 for “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution,” according to the FBI.
Sometime after he left Fargo, Duncan came into possession of a stolen red 2005 Jeep Laredo from St. Paul, Minn., with stolen Missouri plates, according to authorities.
According to The Forum, a key tag for the Jeep was found in May by rangers in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Wyoming.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Fuhrman said he was unaware of any nonsexual violent crimes in Duncan’s history. Duncan also appears to have a clean record in Fargo.
Duncan also is believed to be the author of a Web log that links to a Web site he produced called The Fifth Nail; the Web site was devoted to opposing the sexual offender registry system.
In the Web log, the author wrote that his demons were taking over and, “My intent is to harm society as much as I can, then die.”
While the focus of the investigation is centered on locating Dylan, the local community reacted with relief and euphoria Shasta’s discovery.
She’s received enough gifts of toys and cards and balloons from well-wishers, Price said, “to fill a classroom.”
Many came from classmates and their families. Fernan Elementary Principal Lana Hamilton made about 60 phone calls Saturday morning to teachers and staff and concerned parents to tell them Shasta was alive. Later, Coeur d’Alene Schools Superintendent Harry Amend said Hamilton and two others from Fernan bought new clothes for Shasta and delivered them to the hospital.
“The staff is overjoyed,” Amend said Sunday. “Now, of course, everyone is praying and talking about Dylan.”
In a statement released by KMC, Steve Groene thanked the community and nation for their support.
“I would especially like to thank all those involved in the search for Dylan and Shasta,” he said. “A special thank you goes to the people at Denny’s who were alert enough to recognize Shasta and make that 911 call. The Groene family truly feels you all are heroes.”