CLAY CENTER, Neb. — Dozens of investigators spent hours Tuesday combing roadside ditches and the edges of cornfields in southeastern Clay County, searching for evidence in the death of Sydney Loofe a day after remains believed to be hers were found in the area.
A Nebraska State Patrol helicopter circled above while investigators marked locations a half-mile apart or more.
Loofe, 24, disappeared nearly three weeks ago. Her mother reported her missing Nov. 16 after she missed work in Lincoln.
For the first time Tuesday, law enforcement officials said they found evidence of foul play in the case. But they provided no further details on what might have happened. An autopsy has been ordered.
"We are indeed conducting a very thorough investigation to ensure we can provide an accurate account of what happened to Sydney,” said Randy Thysse, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Omaha, during a news conference at the Hall of Justice in Lincoln.
Two people identified by law enforcement as persons of interest in the case — Aubrey Trail and Bailey Boswell — remained in custody late Tuesday at the Saline County jail in Wilber. Neither had been charged with a crime related to Loofe's disappearance or death.
Police have said Loofe was last seen the night before in Wilber, after apparently going on a date with Boswell, whom she met through the online dating app Tinder.
Trail, 51, and Boswell, 23, live in Wilber but left the state after Loofe went missing. They were arrested last week in the Branson, Missouri area.
"We're continuing to speak with Aubrey Trail, and we'll continue to do so as long as he's willing to do that," said Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister, who declined to say whether Boswell was also cooperating with investigators.
Trail and Boswell have denied their involvement in Loofe's disappearance through a bizarre trio of videos posted last week on social media. While both had active arrest warrants for unrelated charges, Trail said he isn't just a criminal, and deals antiques throughout southeast Nebraska.
"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,” Trail said in one video.
In an earlier video, Boswell claimed she and Loofe drove around Lincoln then smoked marijuana at her apartment in Wilber before she dropped Loofe off at a friend's house. Boswell said she hadn't heard from Loofe since.
Bliemiester on Tuesday said investigators have explored the claims in the videos extensively.
"The investigative efforts have not been able to confirm those particular details," he said. "We’ll still work toward that end, but again, the analysis of the (digital records) was what led us to the discovery of who we believe to be Sydney."
Lincoln police and the FBI are jointly leading the investigation. FBI officials ask that anyone with information related to the case call the dedicated tipline 402-493-8688 and select Option 1.
Loofe, a Neligh native, moved to Lincoln after graduating high school in 2011 as part of a transfer in her employment with Menards, according to her mother, Susie Loofe.
Sydney Loofe's coworkers and family said it was out of character when she didn't arrive for her shift as a cashier at the north Lincoln store. When her family couldn't get ahold of her, they reported her missing to police.
The Loofe family took to social media the following days to raise awareness about her disappearance in hopes of aiding the search.
Her picture appeared on billboards along Interstate 80 in Omaha and in central and downtown Lincoln, and her case became a front-page story for area newspapers and led the evening news.
Her family learned shortly after 5 p.m. Monday that remains believed to be hers had been found, her father told the Neligh News and Leader.
In an interview with that paper Monday night, George Loofe expressed gratitude to those who prayed for their daughter, posted flyers, spread word on social media and "everyone that had anything to do with the search for Sydney."
"The entire state and beyond tried to help, and, in our minds, a lot of good people exist in this world," he said. "Sydney just happened to run into someone that wasn't."
The Beatrice City Council approved moving from a month-to-month franchise agreement contract with Charter Communications to a 10-year, non-exclusive contract.
On Monday night, the council voted unanimously to approve the franchise agreement after removing it from the consent agenda for further discussion. The contract will be for a 10-year term and, at its conclusion, it will automatically renew for five years.
The franchise gives Charter—which provides cable, phone and internet in the city of Beatrice— access to the city’s right-of-way and, in exchange, Charter will pay the city a franchise fee equal to 5 percent of their gross revenue.
Council member Bob Morgan wanted the term “non-exclusive” clarified before voting on the item.
“We're not entering into an agreement where Charter is our only option for cable?” Morgan asked. “This would still allow for free enterprise if somebody else wanted to come in and be a competitor?”
City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer confirmed that any other company would be able to come into the market if they’d like to.
Charter also installed a fiber optic line into the Beatrice School Administration building—where the council holds its meetings—and will provide most of the equipment needed for the city to transmit meetings over a public access channel.
The city still needs a camera to transmit the meetings, but that wasn’t included in the budget for this year, Tempelmeyer said. The equipment would likely cost around $50,000, and they’re trying to find a way to make it work, he said.
The month-to-month contract the city previously had with Charter didn’t offer the same long-term security that a 10-year contract would, Tempelmeyer said.
“That's why we negotiated this agreement which gives them a little more security as far as putting improvements into the system that maybe otherwise they were reluctant to do on a month-to-month basis,” he said.
Jeremiah Blake, Charter’s director of government affairs for Nebraska and Kansas, told the council that Charter covers about 26 million customers in 41 states, including about 200,000 customers in 89 Nebraska communities.
Blake said that Charter’s aim is to provide better speed and picture quality, and that they offer lower cost internet access options for elderly and lower income customers.
Charter provides one public access channel—also known as a Public, Educational and Governmental access channel—and, Blake said, if the first channel becomes fully utilized, the city can request a second channel.
Morgan told Blake that he’s gotten a number of calls from people in his area in regards to customer service. People have told him that there’s a lack of customer service during outages. Morgan asked, as a community franchise, what can be done on Charter’s end.
“If you hear those complaints, please feel free to have Tobias reach out to me and I can kind of shortcut those and address those,” Blake said. “That's part of my job, so please use me as a resource on that.”
The council approved the 10-year franchise agreement unanimously with council members Joe Billesbach and Ted Fairbanks absent.
The council also approved another facade improvement grant in the amount of $10,000 to David and Beth Sederberg, who will perform improvements to their 204 N. Fifth St. building, which houses Uhl’s Sporting Goods.
This is the first grant approved since early November, due mostly to the fact that the Sederbergs wanted to make sure one of the improvements was acceptable to the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office.
“Part of the plan is that they want to have some of the old transom glass, make sure that's put back into their building, their front facade,” Tempelmeyer said. “And they wanted to make sure that SHPO was going to be OK with them doing that.”
Also, he said, most of the work will be performed in the springtime, so there wasn’t much of a rush to get the paperwork completed.
This loan agreement is structured in the same way as past agreements, Tempelmeyer said. After improvements have remained in place for five years, the loan is forgiven by the city. Grant recipients must pay at least 25 percent of the total cost and receipts for improvements are turned into the city and then turned over to the state for reimbursement.
Improvements made to the properties have to stay in place for a full five years. If they don’t, the city must repay the state for the grant money.
As for future facade renovations, that’s up to the people making the improvements, Tempelmeyer said.
“We have three more sitting on my desk waiting for approval from the property owners,” he said.
The loan was approved unanimously.
A 10-year-old boy who left school without permission was found safe Monday afternoon.
The special needs student left Paddock Lane Elementary School in north Beatrice at around 2:45 p.m. He was found much farther south, and is believed to have traveled nearly to the Big Blue River, according to police.
“He likes to wander off and he was at school, walked out of the school, got on a bike and rode it down as far south as almost to Dempsters,” Police Lt. Mike Oliver said. “He ditched the bike and jumped on the back of a farm trailer and either fell or jumped off of that.”
The student was found in downtown Beatrice with minor scrapes and bruises.
Oliver said there was an added sense of urgency in the search because police didn’t know if the student was wearing a coat, and a cold front had moved in.
Oliver added the school is looking into new steps to prevent further incidents.
“I think there’s going to be some different measures put in place,” he said. “We’re going to work with the school resource officer and administration to come up with a better plan for this young man.”