Police say DNA links uncle to disappearance of Utah child; court denies bail

Searchers look for signs of 5-year-old Elizabeth Shelley on May, 27, 2019, in Nibley, Utah. Shelley was later found dead. | File photo by Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via Associated Press, St. George News

LOGAN, Utah (AP) β€” DNA has provided further evidence that the 21-year-old uncle of a missing 5-year-old girl in Utah is behind her disappearance, police said Tuesday.

Evidence also indicates the girl, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley, is hurt, authorities said, though they did not elaborate. She was reported missing Saturday morning by her family after they woke up.

“We would never dash the hope that we would find her alive,” Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said at a news conference. “But it’s certainly a concern for us at this point; Lizzy’s safety.”

He said police have “strong evidence,” including the DNA, linking Alex Whipple to the disappearance of Shelley.

He was denied bail Tuesday during a court hearing in Logan in which he appeared via video in a dark blue jail uniform. He slumped back slightly in his chair, eyes cast downward. His attorney, Shannon Demler, had argued that Whipple should get bail because he has not been charged in connection with the disappearance.

The girl was last seen before family members went to bed about 2 a.m., Jensen said. The uncle was staying at the house that night but doesn’t live there.

This May 25, 2019, booking photo provided by Cache County Sheriff’s Office shows Alex Whipple, a suspect in the disappearance of his 5-year-old niece. | Photo courtesy of Cache County Sheriff’s Office via Associated Press, St. George News

The ongoing search is concentrated on a one-half mile area around the family’s home in Logan.

Teams searched a number of locations, including an empty field near downtown Logan, where about nine police officers spread out in a line, eyes scanning the ground.

Nancy Buttars, 63, said crews searched Monday along a river behind her house, walking up and down the banks and through underbrush, as well as along railroad tracks.

She said she had searched her property herself after hearing alerts about the missing girl.

For many people, the case has disturbed the close-knit sense of tranquility that comes with living in a small community.

“I just hope they find her and put an end to it,” Buttars said.

Betty Balls, 55, a hotel housekeeper in nearby Wellsville, came to the courthouse for Whipple’s hearing to show support for the family, though she doesn’t know them personally.

“Please, wherever she is, bring her home to her family,” Balls said through tears. “This is a safe environment. The kids play outside, and you know they’re out there. Nothing like this should happen at all.”

This undated photo provided by the Logan City Police Department shows Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley, who was reported missing May 25, 2019. | Logan City Police Department via Associated Press, St. George News

Whipple was found Saturday afternoon in a remote area about 10 miles from the family home, several hours after the girl was reported missing. He was combative and refused to identify himself several times when police spotted him walking in a remote area, according to court documents.

Police found him with a metal baseball bat, alcohol and drug paraphernalia. Jensen said the bat isn’t part of evidence in the disappearance.

Whipple was booked into Cache County Jail for investigation of probation violations, failure to identify himself to police and possession of a controlled substance.

In 2016, Whipple was convicted of assaulting his roommate in an incident of domestic violence, according to court records.

The same year, Whipple was arrested after police said he stole his neighbor’s car and drove under the influence of alcohol. A 40-mile chase ended when the Utah Highway Patrol spiked the tires of the car, court documents show.

Whipple was sentenced to prison in March 2018 but his term was suspended, and he was instead ordered to serve 180 days in jail and five years of probation.

Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST Associated Press.

Associated Press writer Morgan Smith in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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