Crystal police said Thursday night that a red shoe found during a citizens’ search of a Mississippi River park is not linked to 10-year-old Barway Collins, who has been missing for two weeks.
The shoe, along with a knife and a red backpack, was found Thursday afternoon by volunteers looking for any sign of the Crystal fourth-grader at North Mississippi Regional Park in Minneapolis.
Barway was last seen jumping out of his school van outside his apartment building on Douglas Avenue N. on the afternoon of March 18, wearing a black jacket, a white T-shirt, black pants and red shoes and carrying a red backpack.
Crystal police tweeted after Thursday’s search that the shoe had no link to Barway, but added in a statement that “all items recovered during the group’s search today will be analyzed over the next few days to determine whether they have any evidentiary value.”
In intermittent searches before Thursday, police, with the help of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, have focused on an area along the Mississippi east of Crystal from Interstate 694 south to Minneapolis’ Webber-Camden area.
On Thursday, led by four women who met on Facebook, about 100 volunteers clad in reflective vests combed the banks of the Mississippi in hopes of finding items related to Barway.
Penny Castano, Bridget Burgin, Shannon Holman and Krystal Murphy-Johnson met on a Facebook page dedicated to finding the boy.
Frustrated by what they called the lack of involvement and communication from local police, they decided to search on their own for Barway.
“The four of us got together one night and went on a search,” Castano said. “After the search, we started talking about … what we can do.”
Father considered suspect
Authorities have identified Barway’s father, Pierre Collins, 33, as a suspect in his son’s disappearance, but he has not been arrested or charged, and he has repeatedly said he’s innocent. Police say they have evidence that he was near the river park in the hours after Barway went missing.
Police are offering a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and prosecution.
Interviewed in his Crystal apartment on March 25, Pierre Collins said he has done everything he can to help police find his son. Yamah Collins, Pierre’s wife and Barway’s stepmother, said she noticed that he was missing at 5 p.m. and called her husband, who was not home. She said Pierre then called the school van service, which told him Barway was dropped off.
A camera in the van recorded Barway hopping out after telling a friend that he saw his “dad,” then his “uncle.”
Public records show no criminal record beyond traffic and fishing fines for Collins, who legally changed his name to Pierre Barlee Collins from Barlee Smith in 2008.
In early 2013, Jennifer Beaver, an ex-wife of Pierre Collins who now lives in Wisconsin, filed an order-for-protection petition against him, public records show. The two, who were married for about 3½ years, divorced later in 2013.
In the documents, she alleges that Pierre abused her and their children. Under the order of protection, which expired March 14, he was not to visit his children’s schools. Barway, who emigrated to the United States from Liberia in 2011 with his father, is a fourth-grader at Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School.
Combing the parkway
Barway’s disappearance hit close to home for Burgin, who has an 11-year-old son. “How can you sleep?” she said. “I’d be searching every single day.”
After maps and reflective vests were passed out Thursday, Castano stood inside a supply truck and spoke to the volunteers, offering information about Barway, such as his age and height, and where he was last seen. She also talked about the four women, all mothers, who orchestrated the search.
“We are not authorities; we are not trained in search and rescue,” Castano said. “We are a group of concerned citizens with a common desire to find a missing child. This little angel has touched us all.”
About five groups were divided into different zones in a 3- to 5-mile stretch of the parkway. Many climbed down muddy banks, across sand beds and through dead grass and weeds.
Paula Gunderson and her 9-year-old grandson have searched the area almost every day. Afraid that something could turn up Thursday, Gunderson brought her adult daughter instead. “This is so heartbreaking,” she said.
About an hour into the search, several items were found, including a knife, sock and a red backpack. “Maybe it’s nothing, but it’s worth checking,” Holman said as she stood a few feet away from the knife discovered during the search.