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UPDATE: Volunteer searches wind down, family tries to stay positive

WATERLOO — The mother of a missing autistic teen says family members are trying to stay positive as the search continues.

Megan Neiswonger, mother of 16-year-old Jake Wilson of La Porte City, said Wednesday was the worst day so far because it has been four days and there has been no sign of her son.

“It’s running us down. … Today is more of a rough day than yesterday,” she said.

It was also the day authorities announced they were ceasing volunteer search efforts.

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said future search operations will be carried out by trained personnel with specific skills.

“This is where we wanted to be. We wanted to be able to check those blocks and say he’s not here, he’s not here. Now we have got to a point where we can start utilizing assets that are far more adept in working in those areas the public isn’t. So, from a broad net to a very surgical approach,” Thompson said.

He said the massive volunteer effort was needed to be able to get to this point, and because of the large turnout, they were able to reach that point sooner than expected.

Family members said Jake was last seen around 8:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday when he asked his stepfather if he could go to nearby Wolf Creek, saying he would be right back. When he didn’t return home, police and firefighters began searching along the creek that night, and the following days brought hundreds of volunteers who combed dozens of miles.

Jake Wilson

Neiswonger has been at the fire station every day, usually surrounded by friends and relatives, as search teams came and went. Her husband, Jeremy, has been assisting with the search — he was in a kayak Wednesday — and the mud on her 13-year-old son’s face is testimony to his help with the effort.

She said her and her husband’s employers — the Black Hawk County Attorney’s Office for her and Kryton Engineered Metals for him — have been understanding, and she is grateful for the support offered by the community.

“Our family wants to thank the law enforcement, the volunteers, American Red Cross, everybody that is looking out for our son. We couldn’t do it on our own,” Neiswonger said. She and her husband have also been visiting with Drew Collins, father of slain cousin Elizabeth Collins who volunteers for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and they found him a great help.

Still, the ordeal is taking its toll. In the first four days, Neiswonger has only had about eight hours of sleep.

She is also bothered by social media posts questioning the decision to allow Jake to leave the house at night and criticizing her for being asleep when Jake left.

She said people shouldn’t be judgmental.

“We are very good parents, and we understand our son and what he likes to do,” she said. “The family has fully cooperated with investigators.”

Neiswonger said Saturday was a normal day before Jake disappeared. He went with her to buy groceries, played Yahtzee with his siblings, listened to music and played video games. He also went “treasure hunting,” collecting spent shotgun shells at a boat ramp outside of town.

“They found some stuff, and he was happy,” she said.

She said Jake likes collecting things, wild game calls — although he doesn’t hunt, he has everything with the exception of a moose call — old keys and spent shell casings.

He also got ice cream, heading to Tootsie’s for a cookie and cream Twister before returning home and asking to visit the creek.

On the night of the disappearance, the town was the last stop on the annual Fool’s Ride, a bicycle event that drew locals and out-of-towners and featured indoor music at a nightclub a few blocks from Tootsie’s. One cyclist was injured later that night in a crash on the recreational trail.

Neiswonger said she noticed the additional vehicles from the event later that night during the first search for Jake. She said authorities are looking to see if Jake was spotted in the vicinity.

Sheriff Thompson said investigators have been contacting people who attended the event, which drew largely from firefighters, who, in turn, later would be involved in the searches.

“We not only pulled video, but a lot of them were here (searching), so we have been able to get about an 80-percent solution with the people we have been able to talk to, with the video we have been able to watch,” Thompson said. “We have engaged that pretty successfully.”

Police Chief Chris Brecher said about 300 people signed in for Wednesday’s search. He said the search has extended out into the Cedar River, and searchers have been walking the banks toward Gilbertville.

Also on Wednesday, authorities released another photo of Jake without his glasses. Jake wasn’t wearing his glasses when he disappeared, but previously released photos showed him with glasses.


This undated photo shows Jake Wilson, at right, without his glasses. When he went missing, he did not have his glasses.

Thompson said the number of investigators assisting with the case has grown from three to more than 28.

“I’ve got just about every discipline from every law enforcement agency — state, local and federal engaged,” Thompson said at the Wednesday morning briefing. “A lot of those have been specifically chosen because of their discipline, because of their particular expertise.

“I’ve got state and local folks out there working with FBI folks making contact with people on the sex offender registry. That would be something you’d expect,” Thompson said. “We are doing everything from re-canvasing, re-touching, making sure we got good documentation of everybody we talked to.”

Anyone with information on Jake or information related to the case is asked to call Black Hawk County Dispatch at 291-2515, or their local authorities.

Parkinson’s patients find their voices with Waverly choir

WAVERLY — Terry Hertges of Waterloo was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008.

“I thought I’d be in a nursing home by now,” she said on a recent morning.

She isn’t. Instead, she’ll perform a concert Friday at the Waverly Senior Center.

Hertges is a member of the Waverly Warblers, a singing group for Parkinson’s patients. The group will give a public performance at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the center.

Led by music therapist Kara Rewerts, the Warblers will sing a number of traditional songs, giving power to their voices both figuratively and literally.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes tremors, muscle rigidity and balance and gait problems.

“It affects all your muscles, including those used for swallowing and speech,” said Hertges. “With Parkinson’s your speech gets softer and softer.”

The Waverly Warblers formed in 2014 as part of an Iowa State University study on music therapy for those with Parkinson’s. The group met weekly for eight weeks to sing, under the auspices of Rewerts.

After the study was completed, the group continued to meet for camaraderie and additional therapy work.

“It’s nice to be with people who understand what you’re going through,” Hertges said. “When you get a diagnosis it’s lonely; it’s scary.”

Outcomes from the Warblers and other Iowa groups involved in the study showed music therapy through singing strengthens the muscles related to swallowing and speech.

“You know, as a music therapist, that music is a really powerful tool. It’s kind of nice to have evidence to support what we’re doing,” Rewerts said.

Hertges said singing with the group helps her focus on keeping her voice strong.

“It helps you to use your diaphragm and breathe better,” she said.

Rewerts chooses songs that have wide vocal ranges and lots of words “to get their lips moving. With Parkinson’s people tend to mumble. We want them to have a voice.”

And not just a voice for singing, but a voice that also raises awareness for Parkinson’s disease, Rewerts added.

Hertges concurs, her wry sense of humor bubbling to the surface.

“April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. That makes us laugh. We’re aware of it every month.”

House GOP plan would cut Iowans’ taxes by $1.3 billion over five years

DES MOINES — House Republicans rolled out a plan Wednesday to cut Iowans’ income taxes by $139 million next year and $298 million in 2020.

The plan calls for an 8.9 percent state income tax reduction for the “average” Iowan, with 90 percent of middle class taxpayers seeing their state tax bill lowered.

The five-year impact will be to lower Iowans’ tax burden by $1.3 billion, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said in announcing the “Middle Class Tax Relief Act.”

It’s a “wonderful good start” that focuses on providing middle class tax relief, she said.

According to House Republicans, a single taxpayer with an income of $25,000 would get a 14.9 percent reduction. A single parent with one child and an income of $48,000 would see a 12.4 percent cut, and a family of four making $52,000 would see a 14.4 percent reduction.

It’s been more than 20 years since the Legislature enacted significant income tax relief, the speaker said, “so it’s time that we take another look at this, review it and modernize it.”

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, plans to roll out a “really fantastic plan” by Senate Republicans today.

Tax relief has been a priority for legislative Republicans as well as GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is up for election.

The concern has been Iowans who stand to owe $1.8 billion less in federal taxes as a result of the U.S. tax overhaul would pay an additional $107 million in state taxes.

That’s because Iowans can deduct their federal tax liability from state taxes. With less to deduct, the added liability would grow to $153 million the next year.

While the House GOP plan is loosely based on the governor’s $1.7 billion tax relief proposal, it doesn’t touch federal deductibility or include her suggested “triggers” to delay tax cuts if the economy shrinks or speed them up if there is significant growth.

The House plan also varies markedly from what Senate Republicans are considering.

The Senate plan goes farther, including a corporate tax cut, and sunsets almost every tax credit.

House Ways and Means Chairman Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, described the House plan as “certainly significant, but it’s also responsible in that we are going to make sure we’re going to balance the books.”

However, Rep. Dave Jacoby of Coralville, the ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, said the GOP plan doesn’t balance the budget and will mean more budget cuts.

“After Republicans just raised tuition, made millions in budget cuts and put $144 million on the state’s credit card, Iowans should be skeptical of any GOP tax scheme that costs $300 million,” he said.

The House plan:

  • Increases the standard deduction from $2,070 to to $3,000 for single filers and $5,090 to $7,500 for couples.
  • Reduces rates for all income brackets.
  • Creates a small business deduction for 25 percent of the federal qualified business income.
  • Makes additional federal tax code coupling changes.

The plan also taxes the “new economy:” Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Spotify would be taxed beginning July 1. Online sellers, ride hailing services and digital goods would be taxed starting Jan. 1, 2019.

Upmeyer said House Republicans can accomplish their goals while continuing to allow Iowans to deduct their federal taxes from Iowa taxes. But Vander Linden said federal deductibility may be in the Senate bill, “so it’s not a dead issue.”

Although the tax changes would result in $99 million less for the state general fund next year and $197 million less the following year, Upmeyer said spending will not have to be reduced and the Legislature will be able to fund priorities.

Trump warns Russia: "Get ready" for attack on Syria

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Russia to “get ready” for a missile attack on its ally Syria, suggesting imminent retaliation for last weekend’s suspected chemical weapons attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis took a more measured tone, saying the U.S. and its military coalition partners were still studying intelligence on the attack.

At stake is the potential for confrontation, if not outright armed conflict, between the U.S. and Russia, former Cold War foes whose relations have deteriorated in recent years over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, most recently, its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Russian lawmakers have warned the United States that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and it could trigger a direct U.S-Russian military clash. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted — a stark warning of a potential major confrontation.

Meanwhile, Syrians braced for a possible U.S. attack in retaliation to an alleged chemical assault that killed dozens over the weekend. Some stocked up on food and prepared underground shelters while others taunted the U.S. president to go through with his threats.

Activists reported government forces vacated strategic potential targets, including air bases around the country in apparent preparation for incoming strikes.

Trump, who has often said a commander in chief should never telegraph his military intentions, apparently did so himself, tweeting missiles “will be coming” in response to the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 40 people near Damascus.

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump wrote. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

Defense Secretary Mattis, however, indicated evidence of what happened was still being studied. At a photo-taking session during a Pentagon meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Mattis was asked by a reporter whether he had seen enough evidence to blame the Syrian government.

“We’re still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies,” Mattis said. “We’re still working on this.”

Mattis and other national security aides huddled at the White House as leaders in Britain, France and Saudi Arabia pledged support for a strong response.

Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt Syria was to blame, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which the U.S. government had video and other evidence of certain aspects of an actual attack by Syrian aircraft, which involved the use of sarin gas. Trump responded then by launching dozens of Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.

Asked whether the U.S. military was ready to conduct an attack in Syria if ordered, Mattis replied, “We stand ready to provide military options if they’re appropriate, as the president determined.”

In the past, Trump has condemned others for forecasting military plans, repeatedly blistering President Barack Obama during the 2016 campaign. During one speech, he said, “We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything.”

Trump did not detail what a strike on Syria would look like, or whether these would be U.S. missiles. U.S. officials have been consulting with France, Britain and other allies on a possible joint military operation, but the timing remained in doubt Wednesday. Trump canceled a foreign trip in order to manage a crisis that is testing his vow to stand up to Assad.

Shortly after his tweeted warning to Russia, Trump took a more conciliatory tone in lamenting that the U.S.-Russia relationship “is worse now than it has ever been.” There is no reason for this, he wrote, adding “Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together.”

Trump’s administration has sought to show toughness on Russia, with a series of economic and diplomatic actions, including new sanctions last week against government officials and oligarchs. Trump has largely avoided criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin by name, though he singled him out in a tweet over the weekend for supporting Assad.

The U.S., France and Britain have been in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week, U.S. officials have said. A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the U.S. in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria’s political and military support from Russia and Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called for a “strong and joint response” to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday. The Syrian government denies responsibility.