LOGAN, Utah, May 30, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Logan City Police Chief Gary Jensen was clearly shaken a few times during a news conference Wednesday, held just hours after the discovery of a body believed to be that of 5-year-old Lizzy Shelley, a fact now confirmed.
In that morning news conference, Jensen had discussed murder charges filed against Lizzy’s uncle, 21-year-old Alex Whipple, the only real suspect in the case. He had slept over at his sister’s house, disappearing sometime between 2 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. with a knife from the family’s kitchen knife block.
Lizzy was missing, too, and the front door was left wide open.
Shortly after the announcement of murder and kidnapping charges, Whipple’s attorney convinced his client to make a deal: to reveal the body’s location if the death penalty was taken off the table.
A map led law enforcement to the site: an overgrown private lot just doors from Lizzy’s home. It had been searched before, but the undergrowth was dense, and Lizzy had been hidden under a pile of debris.
Police placed a tent to obscure the scene for processing.
Despite the length of time that had passed since Lizzy’s disappearance, hope had remained that the girl might be found alive.
At 5 p.m., the police chief spoke to reporters again at 5 p.m. His words were informative and his tone professional. But emotion welled up in Jensen’s voice and face more than once.
“The loss of a child like this is something no one wants to go through,” Jensen told Gephardt Daily afterward. “No mother, no father — no one wants to go through that. And certainly to go on for five days, of painstaking work, to try and find this girl, is as difficult as it can be.”
Many of the searchers have children about the same age, or memories of when their children were younger. Empathizing is inevitable.
“I definitely have my own children, and you cant help think that,” Jensen said.
“You know, I watched my officers release. You know, you’re all about the business, and now that we’ve found her, I watched them have that moment — you know, where they come to grips with what they dealt with. It’s not easy.”
Logan resident Nicholas Hartman didn’t know Lizzy, but lives on the next block. The body was found less than 15 feet from his back fence, he said.
“On Saturday, I was up around that time,” said Hartman, still reeling from the news he had heard just hours before.
“I was up until at least 4 in the morning, just sitting at my computer desk, in the house, right there. It’s just shocking. My family told me don’t blame myself, and I don’t, but at the same time I could have looked out my back window and seen them. It’s right there. It’s so terrifying.”
Hartman said his wife called him at work Wednesday afternoon and alerted him to police swarming the scene, police tape going up, and reporters arriving. She said, “I think they found her,” Hartman reported.
“When I got home, the first thing I did was I grabbed my kids, and I just sat down and cried,” Hartman said.
He and his his wife have a son, age 5, and a daughter, age 3.
“My 5 year old knew something was up and he said ‘What’s wrong Dad?’ I say, ‘Well, you know the little girl the cop was showing you a picture of, asking if you knew her?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, is she OK?’ And I said, ‘No, she’s not. They found her and she’s not OK,’ and he started crying. He’s only 5, but he knows what mortality is, and we don’t have everyone with us forever, and he was just heartbroken.”
Hartman put on a Pokemon show for his kids, to distract them from the crowds and police vehicles outside.
“We’re trying to keep him detached from everything because they’re too young to process it.”
But Hartman, who admits he’s an emotional guy, could not stay in the house, which seemed stifling, he said.
“Every day, I’m up and my kids are asleep, and I’m just looking at them, thinking this could happen to them,” he said, wiping at a tear. “It’s too much. It’s really too much.”
Hartman said that during his childhood in California, a boy who lived around the corner from him had been shot.
“And it was nowhere as impactful as this,” he said. “Logan is such a small, tight-knit community, brought together by where we are and who we are. To think one of our own could do something this heinous is disgusting.”
Logan, nestled in a breezy mountain valley, has old-growth trees and a neighborly community with a reputation for embracing old fashion value.
“It shouldn’t happen,” Hartman said. “It shouldn’t happen here, of all places.”