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Sydney Loofe disappearance: Father pleads for help in search

Aubrey C. Trail

Sydney Loofe’s father gave an impassioned plea for help finding her Thursday, moments after law enforcement apprehended two people they described as persons of interest in her disappearance.

"In my opinion, someone knows something," George Loofe told reporters during a news conference at the Hall of Justice in Lincoln. "Please do the right thing."

Sydney Loofe, 24, has been missing for two weeks. The FBI has set up a dedicated tip line specifically for information related to her case: 402-493-8688, option 1.

Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister answered quickly when asked if there is still hope she could be found alive.

“Yes," the chief said. "Absolutely."

The persons of interest, Aubrey Trail and Bailey Boswell, were in custody "somewhere in the Midwest" outside Lincoln, said Randy Thysse, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Omaha. He declined to provide more detail.

He said the FBI still is seeking information from the public on Loofe's whereabouts and the investigation, describing the search as "a very fluid situation."

Trail and Boswell were arrested on warrants unrelated to Loofe's disappearance, Bliemeister said.

The two did not turn themselves in to law enforcement, the chief told the Journal Star later in the day, despite Trail saying in a video posted on social media overnight that he and Boswell had "pretty much decided" to come forward.

Bliemeister declined to say whether the videos helped law enforcement track down the pair.

He said investigators have received written correspondence that they believe was authored by Boswell, and that they are analyzing it and comparing it with other statements she made over the phone to a Lincoln investigator.

Investigators from Lincoln, the Saline County Sheriff's Office and the FBI arrived at Trail and Boswell's location around 2 p.m. Thursday hoping to learn whether the two could provide additional information to aid in the search for Loofe, Bliemeister said.

There was no word late Thursday as to whether they were cooperating.

Investigators also were evaluating digital information they continue to receive from telecommunication providers, Bliemeister said. They intend to use that information, along with whatever can be gleaned from interviews with Trail and Boswell, to direct future search efforts.

"The primary focus is on finding Sydney," the chief said.

In Neligh, where George Loofe is a high school principal, and his wife, Susie, is a resource teacher, community members rallied around the family, selling buttons and planning to wear green at a Neligh-Oakdale and Ewing basketball game Thursday night to raise awareness about the case.

Bliemeister said local and federal law enforcement have been "working diligently" to find Sydney Loofe since her mom reported her missing Nov. 16, after she missed work at Menards in north Lincoln. Police have said Loofe was last seen in Wilber the night of Nov. 15.

Searches in the Wilber and Clatonia areas this week did not turn up any new evidence that could lead to where Loofe might be, Bliemeister said. He said a rumor that Loofe's cellphone was found buried in a yard near where Trail and Boswell lived is "not true.”

Police publicly identified Trail and Boswell as persons of interest in the case earlier this week. Since then, the pair have posted at least three videos on social media denying any role in Loofe's disappearance.

In a 10-minute video posted overnight Wednesday, Trail dismissed several theories that circulated on social media after Trail, 51, and Boswell, 23, were named by police.

"Not saying I'm a nice guy. I'm a crook, I'm a thief — have been all my life. OK? But I'm not what you're trying to make me out to be,” he said.

Thursday, Boswell was being held on a misdemeanor warrant for missing a court date last year in Lincoln, where she was accused of possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. And Trail was being held on a newly filed case in Saline County, where he's accused of being a habitual criminal and a felon in possession of a firearm.

Prosecutors asked to file the affidavit for Trail's arrest warrant under seal "due to the sensitive nature of these matters and the likelihood that individuals who are key witnesses or additional participants in this matter may flee the state of Nebraska if this matter is disclosed."

Even now that investigators have located the pair, Thysse said law enforcement officials are seeking any and all information about where Sydney Loofe could be.

"We're all committed and we are applying all of our resources to help bring Sydney home,” he said.

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The noisiest time of year: Salvation Army bell ringers out in full force in Beatrice

Whether the clanging sound in front of Wal-Mart conjures up warm Christmas feelings or has you reaching for an aspirin, the Salvation Army bell ringers, armed with their bright red kettles, are out in full force in front of Beatrice businesses.

Beatrice Salvation Army Lts. Joseph and Rachel Irvine have a platoon of bell ringers strategically placed around town to help raise money for people in need. With those unmistakable red kettles and shiny, silver bells, a team made up mostly of volunteers try to drum up support for the Salvation Army’s annual drive.

It all started in 1891, when a Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco wanted to provide a Christmas dinner for the poor. Grabbing a big pot, he set up out in front of the ferry terminal from Oakland and received enough donations to make dinner for 1,000 people.

The tradition spread, and by 1898, the Salvation Army kettle drives were providing Christmas dinners across the country from San Francisco to New York.

In 1894, the Beatrice Salvation Army got its start, and the organization has been helping the area’s poor, lonely, ill, elderly, imprisoned and otherwise unfortunate for nearly 125 years.

The bells were introduced in 1900 in New York and they’ve been chiming ever since.

On Thursday, Lyndon Wiegand and Elaine Richards were in front of Walmart in Beatrice, ringing their bells and greeting people as they came to do their shopping.

“It’s for a good cause,” Wiegand said, as he waved to a friend inside.

Wiegand has been collecting money for the Salvation Army for years, he said. These days, he’s parked in front of Walmart in his red apron from Monday through Thursday for a full day of bell-ringing.

Richards, who has been ringing bells for a few years herself, said sometimes she’s at Wal-Mart, but she volunteers to ring at Sunmart as well. She arrived outside of Wal-Mart on Thursday at about 1 p.m., and her kettle began filling up fast.

“I did it to help the people,” she said.

The Beatrice Wal-Mart is one of the key locations for the Salvation Army’s drive, Joseph said, but volunteers can’t be there until after Thanksgiving. That was part of the Salvation Army agreement, he said, and bell ringers work mostly in front of grocery stores.

“Wal-Mart makes such a huge difference with our kettle fundraising,” he said. “Everybody goes to Wal-Mart, so that's kind of where the biggest part of our kettle income is from.”

Typically, he said, the kettles are out every day from about 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., which is a prime fundraising time. If they’re out first thing in the morning, he said, they don’t really get much of a crowd, and, if they stick to the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, they’d miss the evening crowd doing shopping after work.

Community organizations like the Cub Scouts, 4-H, the Lions Club, Sertoma Club and many others often help collect for the Salvation Army. They’ve gotten huge volunteer support from the community, Joseph said, which goes right back into the community.

“The money raised here stays locally,” he said. “When we deposit it, it goes to Security First, that's who we bank with, and that's where we have our local accounts.”

Joseph Irvine is a third generation Salvation Army officer. His parents recently retired after 31 years and his wife, Rachel Irvine’s parents are nearly retired after 32 years.

A lot has changed in more than a century since the Salvation Army started collecting money in the kettles, and those changes can sometimes create trouble. The kettle system is reliant on people having cash in their pockets, but that’s one thing that seems to be going away, Rachel said.

“Some locations have had card machines at the kettle, that's an expensive thing to do,” she said. “But we do have one in our church store, so if people want to make donations that way, we can make that happen.”

This time of year is hectic for the Irvines. They typically work 10 to 12-hour shifts every day, on top of preaching on Sunday, Joseph said.

They even get in some bell ringing time, he said, though he typically plays the baritone horn instead of the bells.

Bell ringers know that people may find the sound annoying, and they typically can tell when you’re faking a call on your cell phone to avoid their gaze. But volunteers want people to know that it’s OK to say “hello” and not give any money.

That clang-clang-clang sound that gets stuck in your head when you walk into a store, also gets stuck in the bell ringers' heads at night, too, Rachel said. Even if it gets people annoyed, Joseph said, at least it got their attention.

“There have been people who tell a bell ringer they'll pay them $5 to stop ringing the bell,” Rachel said. “Then somebody comes behind them and says, ‘I'll pay you $10 to ring the bell.’”

City power purchase agreement gets amendments

The Beatrice Board of Public Works gave its approval for amendments to a Power Purchase Agreement approved by the Beatrice City Council back in June.

On Wednesday, three resolutions relating to the Cottonwood Wind Project received approval from the BPW. In July, BPW and city council approved the purchase agreement to buy 16.1 megawatts of energy each year from the wind farm currently under construction in Wayne County by NextEra, a Florida-based energy company.

Since entering into the PPA with NextEra, there were several new documents that needed to be signed.

The first was an estoppel certificate, or a document that verifies there’s no hidden risk for investors.

“NextEra is having some investors that are buying into this wind farm,” said City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer. “Their investors are requiring them to have this estoppel certificate, which basically states that nobody's in breach of the contract, it hasn't been amended and all the companies are good, viable companies and they'll make sure they can pay their bills.”

Some BPW members asked for clarification of the word "estoppel"—which comes from the French word “estouper” for stopper—but it’s a fairly common legal term, Tempelmeyer said.

“When does that word come into effect,” BPW chairman Dave Eskra asked. “Has that always been around?”

“Estoppel,” Tempelmeyer said. “I think you learn it about the third day of law school.”

The next resolution was an amendment to a guaranty issued by NextEra in August. In that guaranty, NextEra guaranteed timely payments to the city from Cottonwood Wind Project.

Investors in the project wanted the guaranty increased from $750,000 to $1 million, Tempelmeyer said.

“Also, the original agreement was supposed to terminate here fairly soon and the investors said 'we want you to guaranty that through 2042',” Tempelmeyer said. “So, those were the two changes that were made. Both were in our favor.”

The third resolution passed by the BPW made some investor-driven minor changes to the Power Purchase Agreement, including a definition and the termination section of the agreement.

“They had a couple of changes they wanted to make to the PPA,” Tempelmeyer said. “One of them was the definition of after-tax multiplier. I read through it several times, I could not figure out what word they changed in there some place. If they did make a change in there, it was fairly minor, because I couldn't find it.”

The changes were reviewed by David Levy and John Krajewski, lawyers working with the city on energy projects, and found to be in the city’s favor, Tempelmeyer said.

All three resolutions were approved unanimously by the Board of Public Works.

Area lodging study complete

A lodging study of Gage County has been completed, and officials are hoping the results will entice groups to build hotels in the area.

The NGage economic development group discussed the lodging study, and also the ongoing market retail study, during its monthly meeting Thursday.

“It’s done, it shows demand,” said NGage Director Walker Zulkoski. “There is demand for 55 rooms and they did some feasibility analysis for some chains, saying 'here’s the demand for your hotel, here’s what you could probably charge for a room, here’s what it would cost exactly to build your hotel on this site.'”

The hotel lodging study includes a variety of factors, including the current occupancy limits of hotels, and determining if there is a need for more lodging.

Zulkoski said it also includes recommended amenities, such as pools, hotel bars, meeting spaces and breakfast areas that would help hotels succeed.

It’s been previously stated that at least three groups have recently been interested in building hotels in Beatrice.

The city has made strides to increase tourism and grow attractions, though officials have said the lodging industry has been lacking, forcing some visitors to look toward Lincoln for a place to stay when Beatrice hotels fill up.

While there have been inquiries, Zulkoski said it’s been a slow process.

“I feel like the responses have been slower than I thought that they would be,” he said. “There’s still interest, but nobody has jumped and said, ‘Yes, give me a site, I’ll build something.’ They’re going to probably try and squeeze us for things. They’re probably going to want to negotiate on land costs and ask for incentives and all that.”

A market retail study is still being conducted, and Zulkoski hopes it will be completed in the near future.

Main Street Beatrice, the Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce and NGage economic development group are working with Barman Development Strategies to look at Beatrice’s current and potential market position, data and trends.

These efforts will culminate in transformation and development strategies to assist with small business development in downtown Beatrice and throughout the entire Beatrice community.