Chief says case of girl’s disappearance still open

Published 5:18pm Saturday, June 15, 2013

CHISHOLM — A brown-eyed 5-year-old girl who vanished from her neighborhood in a small northern Minnesota city 10 years ago is still on the minds of investigators who have followed hundreds of leads into her disappearance, the community’s police chief said.

LeeAnna Warner headed to a neighbor’s house to play on the afternoon of June 14, 2003. No one was home at the time, so the girl who many people called “Beaner” walked away. And disappeared.

“She’s still in our hearts. It’s very much in our minds,” said Chisholm Police Chief Vern Manner. “Nobody here has forgotten.”

Manner said law enforcement officers will gather with LeeAnna’s family on the steps of City Hall on Friday to mark the 10-year anniversary of her disappearance and publicly state that the search for LeeAnna continues.

“We want people to know this isn’t a cold case. It’s not a closed case. We are still treating this as an open case,” Manner said.

Police officers, firefighters, volunteers, bloodhounds and tracking experts searched the entire city in the 48 hours after the girl disappeared. Later, hundreds of volunteers from across the Iron Range and the state of Minnesota became part of the search.

They checked Longyear Lake, located just blocks from LeeAnna’s house. They looked in abandoned iron ore mines, garages, sheds and rural barns hoping maybe LeeAnna just got lost.

“It was an absolutely massive search and rescue effort going on simultaneously that we had a criminal investigation going. Multiple agencies — state, local, federal. Hundreds of people,” recalled Dave Phillips, St. Louis County undersheriff.

Weeks passed with no clues, and police said LeeAnna had probably been abducted by a stranger. But the searching continued.

A crowd of volunteers turned out to search on the one-year anniversary of LeeAnna’s disappearance.

Investigators said they followed about 2,000 leaders over the years in their search for the girl, but none has panned out.