May 20, 2005
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Authorities expressed skepticism Friday but continued to search for a van, hoping to find two children missing since the slayings earlier this week of their mother, brother and mother's boyfriend.
Kootenai County sheriff's Capt. Ben Wolfinger said authorities were assessing the credibility of the tip from a shopkeeper in Bonners Ferry, 75 miles north of Coeur d'Alene, that 9-year-old Dylan Groene and his 8-year-old sister, Shasta, might have been spotted there.
"We've got dozens of reported sightings of the children from all across the country. What gives this one credibility, in our hearts more than our minds, is that it is local," Wolfinger told The Associated Press Friday morning.
The driver of the light-colored van asked for directions to Libby, Mont., and investigators checked highways and side roads between Bonners Ferry and Libby without success.
Investigators were skeptical that anyone who abducted two children on Sunday would be seen publicly with them in the region four days later, but every lead was being checked, Wolfinger said.
"We don't know if (the van) was involved at all or absolutely involved, but we'll never know until we find it," he said.
Also Friday, the children's father begged for the children's return.
"If they can see me or hear me, I want them to know I love them, I need them back with me," Steve Groene told CNN. "Everybody's praying for them, and all I can tell them is please hang in there. This will be over soon. They're coming home."
On Thursday, a concrete worker was cleared as a suspect in the slayings after authorities said he voluntarily took and passed a polygraph test during a seven-hour interview with investigators.
Robert Roy Lutner, 33, had visited the house Sunday where the victims - Brenda Kay Groene, 40; her 13-year-old son, Slade; and her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, 37 - were discovered the following day.
Lutner told investigators he saw the three alive when he attended a "barbecue-type get-together" at the home Sunday night, Wolfinger said.
Lutner remained in custody on a probation violation warrant unrelated to the slayings and child disappearances, authorities said.
County Coroner Dr. Robert West said the victims were bludgeoned to death. He would not say when they died or what kind of weapon was used.
Wolfinger urged anyone who attended the Sunday gathering to contact the sheriff's office. Authorities have received pledges of more than $70,000 for a reward fund.
Searches of about 400 acres of brush and woods near the house wrapped up Thursday, and divers were checking the last few ponds near the home Friday, Wolfinger said.
"Ground crews are 100 percent certain the children are not here," Wolfinger said.