Her room remains much the way it was left on Oct. 4, 2011.
And her parents vow that it will stay that way until the little girl known across the country as Baby Lisa comes home.
But after the offer of a $100,000 reward and hundreds of tips and leads tracked down from Gladstone to Greece, what happened to Lisa Irwin remains as big a mystery as it was three years ago.
In the early morning hours that day, Jeremy Irwin says, he returned from work to his home on North Lister Avenue in Kansas City, North, and found that his 10-month-old daughter was missing.
The girl’s mother, Deborah Bradley, was asleep and told Irwin that she had last seen their daughter the night before when she tucked the little girl into her crib.
From those first terrifying moments for the young couple, a massive search was launched.
In the first few weeks after Lisa was reported missing, hundreds of local, county, state and federal law enforcement officers were involved in the search. Searchers on horseback, in all-terrain vehicles or on foot explored ravines, open fields, vacant lots, abandoned homes, a 40-foot well and the banks of the Missouri River.
A team of detectives worked the case full time, running down more than 1,500 calls about the case that came into the TIPS Hotline.
The story quickly drew the intense attention of the national news media, and Bradley and Irwin were interviewed on a number of network news programs.
Out-of-state investigators and lawyers got involved, and an anonymous benefactor offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to Lisa’s safe return.
But as the volume of tips faded, detectives returned to working other cases and the national media moved on to new sensational stories, and Lisa’s case faded from the public’s consciousness.
For Irwin and Bradley, though, that worst day of their lives has yet to end.
“It just gets harder,” Bradley said. “We try the best we can to function, to care for our boys and wait for her to come home.”
The initial torrent of leads has slowed to a trickle, but Kansas City police said they follow up on any they receive. Detectives have received about 100 new tips in the last year, according to police.
Each tip is assigned a lead number, and a detective is assigned to follow it up.
“We are still actively investigating her disappearance,” said police Capt. Tye Grant. “We know that someone out there knows what happened to her.”
John Picerno, a Kansas City attorney who represents Lisa’s parents, said that despite the lack of “substantial, concrete leads,” the family has not given up hope that Lisa will be found safe.
He noted that missing people are sometimes found 10 or 20 years after they disappeared.
Just last week, authorities in Texas announced that a girl who had been missing for 12 years had been found.
Although relations between the family and police were strained at the onset of the investigation because of disputes about how cooperative Lisa’s parents were being, those concerns have dissipated.
“The lines of communication are open,” said Grant.
Irwin said that any tips the family receives are passed on to police, which the family trusts will properly check them out.
On their website, findlisairwin.com, they have posted the message: “Thank you to the KCPD, the FBI and the hundreds of volunteers that are working tirelessly to find Lisa. You are Lisa’s angels and we appreciate your help more than we can express.”
With Lisa’s 4th birthday coming up next month, Bradley and Irwin plan to have a celebration complete with cake and presents. They have done that for each of the three birthdays that Lisa hasn’t been with them.
“Her room is so full of toys you can hardly walk in there,” Bradley said.
While their focus continues to be on finding their daughter, Irwin and Bradley want to raise awareness about other missing children. The “Lisa Irwin-Footprints in the Sand” page on Facebook highlights other missing child cases.
“Our main goal is not just to find Lisa, but to help other families with missing children,” Bradley said.
To keep Lisa’s story in the public eye, the family is planning a candlelight prayer vigil Saturday. The vigil will be held at 7 p.m. in front of their house at 3620 N. Lister Ave. The public is invited.
“If you see something, please call the police,” Bradley said. “Keep your eyes open. It only takes one sighting to bring her home.”
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