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Many questions surround case of missing kids



Published: Sun, July 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Eight-year-old Shasta Groene was found just a few miles from her home.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) -- A day after missing 8-year-old Shasta Groene turned up with a registered sex offender at a Denny's restaurant in her hometown, investigators struggled with a troubling question: What happened to her 9-year-old brother?

"Dylan is our No. 1 priority at this point," Kootenai County Sheriff's Capt. Ben Wolfinger said at a Sunday news conference.

There was no sign of the boy when Shasta was found Saturday with Joseh Edward Duncan III of Fargo, N.D. Wolfinger said investigators fear he met the same fate as the three people found bludgeoned to death in the family's home.

Other questions, he said, are "Where have Duncan and Shasta and Dylan been the last six weeks? Was Duncan involved in the triple homicide? Were other people involved? Is so, who and where are they?"

Across the country, officials faced another tough question: Why was the man accused of kidnapping Shasta released on bail?

Dark past

Duncan, 42, had been released a month before the children disappeared. He was facing charges of molesting a 6-year-old boy at a middle-school playground in Minnesota and had spent more than a decade in prison for raping a 14-year-old boy.

Prosecutors in Becker County, Minn., where Duncan was released, did not return calls seeking comment. Police in Fargo said they had been looking for Duncan since May, but had no indication he had fled to Idaho.

"Why did this crime occur?" Wolfinger said. "I think why is probably the biggest question we have."

The Groene children were reported missing May 16, when officials found their mother, Brenda Groene, 40; their brother, Slade Groene, 13; and Mark McKenzie, 37, bludgeoned to death in the family home.

Wolfinger said Duncan invoked his right to an attorney, but will not have one appointed until his first court appearance Tuesday. He was charged with kidnapping and being held without bond.

Frightening posting

Days before the children disappeared, an ominous message was posted on a Web site that officials said Duncan maintained.

"I am scared, alone and confused, and my reaction is to strike out toward the perceived source of my misery, society," the May 11 entry said. "My intent is to harm society as much as I can, then die."

Forty investigators were working the case Sunday, with the FBI and Idaho State Patrol backing up city and county police.

A search of the stolen Jeep Duncan was driving has been completed and the evidence was forwarded to the FBI, Wolfinger said. He declined to describe that evidence.

The astonishing emergence of Shasta more than six weeks after she disappeared, countered by her brother's continued, ominous absence, created mixed emotions here.

"We're happy about Shasta," Bill Todd, owner of Davis Donuts, said Sunday. "But I'm sad there's no good news on Dylan yet."

"There can be happy endings," employee Darcy Furey said hopefully.

Huge topic of conversation

Todd's business was one of many that taped posters of the missing children and displayed readerboards praying for their safe return. The case dominated conversations in this northern Idaho resort community of 35,000, decked with flags for the sunny Fourth of July weekend -- a big event in tourist-dependent Coeur d'Alene.

Investigators had interviewed hundreds of people, searched through 800 tons of trash and fielded more than 2,000 tips.

The restaurant where Shasta Groene was found is just miles from the family home. It was not known whether Duncan had a connection with the victims.

Shasta's father, Steve Groene, stayed with her at a local hospital overnight. The little girl is in good condition and spoke at length with investigators, but authorities are treating her gently, Wolfinger said.

"She's a little girl who's been through who knows what in the past six weeks," Wolfinger said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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