EL PASO COUNTY — The stepmother of Gannon Stauch arrived to the El Paso County Jail Thursday morning after deciding to not to fight her extradition to Colorado on charges of first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in death, tampering with a deceased human body and tampering with physical evidence.
She's being held without bond and went before a judge to be advised of the charges against her Thursday afternoon. Her attorney waived the advisement until a first appearance hearing now scheduled for March 11. The defense filed an objection to the media's presence at the event.
With the announcement of her arrest, Academy District 20 notified parents of an employment offer made to Stauch in January.
She was going through an orientation process the week before Gannon was reported missing, from Jan. 22 to 24, to become a teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School. The district said they conducted a background check of Stauch, but ultimately they did not follow through with the hire because reference checks "revealed inconsistent information." Her employment offer was taken away on Jan. 29.
The announcement came a day after Widefield D3 notified parents of her arrest. Stauch previously worked at French Elementary.
Stauch appeared via video conference with a judge in Horry County Tuesday. She's seen alone in the video with her hands and feet shackled. Stauch had a choice to waive extradition or fight extradition from Horry County, South Carolina, where she was being held following her arrest Monday by El Paso County Sheriff's deputies who traveled out of state to make the arrest.
Supporters of Gannon have decorated the entrance to the El Paso County Justice Center with blue ribbons and pictures so that Letecia can see them when she arrives. Christy Gibson, one of the people who put them up, said they did it to "show support for the family, and also to make sure that it's the last thing that she sees when she's being brought to CJC."
At a press conference held Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said, "We will not stop and this investigation has only begun."
Gannon Stauch has not been seen since Jan. 27 when his stepmother says he left to go visit a friend, according to prior information from the sheriff's office.
The arrest of Gannon's stepmother was a result of thousands of hours spent in the investigation and searching for Gannon, who investigators said they do not believe is alive. The sheriff's office said they have not found Gannon and will continue investigation efforts.
News 5 Investigates has learned the arrest warrant for Letecia Stauch was first sought by El Paso County authorities on Friday, Feb. 28.
An agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Denver says the case will be worked on aggressively and worked through the end. The FBI will continue to work with local agencies to "see this through to the end." The agent said at Monday's press conference that Gannon's disappearance indicates "foul play."
According to Colorado law, "a person commits tampering with a deceased human body if, believing that an official proceeding is pending, in progress, or about to be instituted and acting without legal right or authority, the person willfully destroys, mutilates, conceals, removes,or alters a human body,part of a human body,or human remains with intent to impair its or their appearance or availability in the official proceedings."
The lead prosecutor going forward in this case said tips are encouraged to help bring Gannon home and to help with build the case against Letecia Stauch.
Tuesday, a day after Letecia Stauch was arrested, friends, family, and the community again gathered to honor the life of 11-year-old Gannon.
More prominent signage was erected at the memorial already in place in the Lorson Ranch neighborhood where Gannon lived. Friends and neighbors installed the words "Pray for Gannon" at the corner of Marksheffel and Fontaine. Tributes of blue, flowers, and pinwheels began stacking up shortly after Gannon's disappearance in late January.
Neighbors in the Lorson Ranch neighborhood said this whole situation has become personal for them.
"Give us some time to grieve this, let the family grieve this, and then we're gonna start doing vigils. We're gonna start doing other things," neighbor Kellie McGregor said.
The newly installed letters are weather proof and will be illuminated.
Gannon's mother, Landen Hiott, told those at the press conference that Gannon is not gone and that he is with us. She said she is "astounded" by the amount of support and love from the community.
"Never thought I'd be standing here," Gannon's mother said tearfully. "This is a nightmare. I've had to put trust in the people I don't know. Today I got the worst news and the best news. Obviously we know what the worst news is, but the best news is that justice will be served."
Jacqueline Kirby with the sheriff's office read a statement by Gannon's father, Al Stauch, at the press conference. His letter stated the day Gannon was born, his heart stopped. And his heart stopped again on March 2 when he learned of the news.
It's been over one month since 11-year-old Gannon was reported missing and initially listed as a runaway. He was reported missing on Jan. 27 and three days later, the sheriff's office changed his status to missing and endangered.
Almost immediately, the community came together and searched for the boy near his Lorson Ranch neighborhood off of Marksheffel Road in Security, Colorado. Gannon was reported missing by his stepmother who told authorities he left their home to go to a friend's house down the street. He was last seen wearing a blue jacket and jeans.
The latest search efforts by the sheriff's office said search efforts resumed Saturday in northern El Paso County in the area of Highway 105 and Highway 83. The search moved north on Feb. 12 where crews combed through a 35-acre area bordering northern El Paso County and southern Douglas County.
The sheriff's office said it has received over 800 tips in the Gannon case.
Gannon's Law Petition
A petition has been launched to create a new law requiring missing children be immediately listed as missing and endangered, even if a caregiver indicates a runaway situation. The Gannon's Law Petition on change.org calls for a nationwide change to law enforcement procedure. Gannon, 11, was first reported missing on Jan. 27 as a runaway.
Three days later the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said they considered him a missing and endangered child.
Those behind the petition say the delay in listing Gannon as missing and endangered cost valuable time in gathering and following up on leads in his case.
The petition says in Colorado, and in most other states, it's not safe to leave an 11-year-old alone and unsupervised for more than three hours.
The petitioners say they applaud the work law enforcement has done to bring Gannon home, but they believe the first few hours were crucial in finding evidence to bring him home.
The petition aims to change law enforcement procedure so that in the future a child Gannon's age should automatically be listed as missing and endangered after no more than three hours missing without contact.
We asked the organizer of the petition about the potential strain this would put on law enforcement, if something like this proposal was passed. "If it does, then that's okay. This law is about bringing children home safely, so if that means that there's a little bit more pressure on law enforcement, then so be it," said Taran Witt, who started the petition.
To learn more about CBI's alerts, visit this link.
Here is the statement from El Paso County Sheriff's Office regarding that initial phone call:
"The reporting party, who was Gannon's stepmom. called 911 to report Gannon was last seen by her between 3:15 - 4pm on January 27 to go to a friend's house. Information received during this call guided the call taker to type code this call as a runaway. Gannon's information was entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Colorado Crime Information Center (CCIC) approximately 30 minutes after the initial call as a runaway."
Nearly one month into the search for missing and endangered 11-year-old Gannon Stauch, with no active searches taking place on Feb. 21. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said they don't have any planned searches coming up, but that could change at any time depending on where the investigation could lead them.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said the Metro Crime Lab being back outside the Stauch home does not mean this is a criminal investigation and would not elaborate on what they were doing there. They did say the crime lab is called out to a variety of incidents. They said it's a sign their search has not slowed down.
News5 asked about Gannon being reported originally as a runaway rather than a missing person, and the Sheriff's Office said they have to work off of what the person calling 911 tells them in that moment.
"At the time the call was made, the reporting party stated that he was a runaway, he did not return from a friend's home, and so it was call typed as a runaway case," said El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby.
Kirby also said when they can release more information to the public, they will. As of Friday, the Sheriff's Office said they have gotten more than 700 tips.
As time nears the one-month mark since Gannon was reported missing from his home in the Lorson Ranch neighborhood, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is suspending search efforts in the 35-acre area bordering northern El Paso County and southern Douglas County.
Crews have been searching in this area around Highway 105 since Feb. 12, conducting these efforts with K-9 units and crews from Jefferson County, Douglas County, and El Paso County. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said they have conducted over 7,000 hours of investigative work along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The sheriff's office said they still have teams available if they need to conduct more search efforts.
As of Tuesday, the department has received 637 tips that include possible sightings, search suggestions social media-related information, suspicious activity, found property/possible evidence and video/photo/drone evidence. The sheriff's office mentioned that the "absence of information" has not hindered the investigation.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Office tip line at (719) 520-6666 or at email@example.com.
Search moves north
Search crews are expanding their search for Gannon, who has been missing for more than three weeks. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office gave News5 an update Feb. 12 that crews are now looking for him in northern El Paso County and southern Douglas County.
"We live in a very good community where when tragedy happens we ban together," said Jacqueline Kirby, public information officer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. "We are not at a point right yet where we need citizen volunteers I still have that database ready to go as soon as detectives tell me that's the need."
In the age of social media, many rumors of the investigation are circulating around and, according to Kirby, hindering the investigation.
As local law enforcement and several other agencies are keeping up the search to find Gannon, the community held a candlelit prayer event Feb. 8, hoping for his safe return. The family attended the event as well, and was overcome with emotion.
It was at the empty field on the corner of Fontaine and Carriage Meadows in Gannon's neighborhood in Lorson Ranch. The event was a time of prayer and a chance for the community to gather together with food and drinks. Any money raised from the event will be donated to the Stauch family. They also handed out more blue ribbons and lights for people to display.
"I think we're all kind of feeling like the heaviness of all of this and the sadness, but we're all coming together and really showing our support with the blue lights and coming to these events, and just helping out in any way that we can," said Alex Pace, a neighborhood volunteer.
News5 also spoke with one woman who said she lives next door to the Stauch family and knows Gannon.
"I actually got to be around him, to know the loving child that he actually is, and again, being a parent, you couldn't even imagine going through something as tragic as this right now," Mathelda Warren said.
One of the people who helped organize the event by arranging the food donations said she hopes the event shows the family they are loved.
"The best part that has come out of this is everyone showing how much they care and how much they can support someone in the community that they don't even know. And I think that that's something to hold on to, to see that there's still hope, that people do care," Axisa Chavez said.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said they re-canvassed the neighborhood Saturday to ensure they interviewed any neighbors who may not have been present the first time. On Friday, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said search efforts included concentrated smaller groups based on leads. Large group efforts have been suspended for the time being.
If you have any credible information about where Gannon might be, please call the sheriff's tip line at 719-520-6666. Do not take it to social media.
Crews search bodies of water
The search for Gannon continued Feb. 6 as groups of volunteers spread out southeast of Colorado Springs. The area saw a good snowfall in the area as well as temperatures near zero degrees during the 48 hours before the search, so this was the best opportunity for groups to fan across across the area for any sign of the boy before snow returned.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office says crews were out near Big Johnson Reservoir next to Powers Boulevard south of the Colorado Springs Airport using new equipment to continue the search.
According to a tweet from the Sheriff's Office, search crews used a submersible remotely operated vehicle to search bodies of water.
"Our search and rescue team with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, we have Douglas County Sheriff's Office search and rescue, as well as Fremont County Sheriff's Office search and rescue, as well as volunteers from the National Guard out today, we also in addition to that have four of our mounted unit, El Paso County Sheriff's Office mounted unit team out here, and two search and rescue dogs, as well as a Razor... Kind of like a utility vehicle or ATV," said Sgt. Deborah Mynatt from the Sheriff's Office.
Mynatt said neighbors will see crime lab techs return to the home in the Lorson Ranch neighborhood as they work to gather more evidence in the investigation that may help any search efforts. She confirms the case is still considered a missing and endangered persons investigation. Multiple agencies, including Fremont County Search and Rescue and Douglas County Search and Rescue are assisting in this effort. According to Mynatt, the Sheriff's Office is also using the resources from a 500 member strong volunteer community.
News5 also spoke with the Emergency Incident Support Group, which makes sure the volunteers have what they need to continue the search.
"We call them the heroes, and they call us the heroes for feeding them and keeping them well fed and watered," said Gary Nelson, the treasurer of the Emergency Incident Support Group.
Whether or not the people there were out searching, or helping those volunteers, they all have the same mission.
"Gannon, if you're watching this, you just have to know that the hearts of minds of the people in this community are there looking for you. Come back home soon," Nelson said.
Parents' plea for help
On Feb. 5, Gannon's parents Landen Hiott and Al Stauch released a tearful video statement with Gannon's sister pleading for his return.
The past nine days have been filled with support from the community and Hiott says the neighborhood is a "true example" of who Gannon is.
"Everybody coming together, all the smiles that people have, this is why I have hope," she said. "Because I feel it. This is Gannon truly speaking to our community."
And while there is support, Al Stauch describes the past eight days as a rollercoaster of emotion.
"Sometimes we jump for joy because we get information that we think might be a break in the case and then the next minute we see something or get information that just breaks our heart into a million pieces again," he said. "But through all this, just know that your thoughts and your prayers and your messages, keep them coming because even if we don't respond we are receiving them and that has given us strength to get through this."
Gannon's mother begged for the community to call the Sheriff's Office with any information that can help bring their son home.
"If you have anything that's credible, if you're afraid, don't worry about it. Imagine my son, imagine how afraid he is, imagine how afraid Gannon is. So please call, please write. If you need someone else to do it for you, please do because my son deserves to be here," Hiott said.
This video statement released by the county comes one day after an interview at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office where Sgt. Deborah Mynatt refused to answer questions about a video investigators received from a neighbor Monday. She repeated concerns that releasing the video to the public could compromise the investigation. She is asking for anyone in the area to provide footage to investigators.
A neighbor told News5 the video he turned over to investigators Monday is a key piece of evidence. He says it shows Letecia Stauch, Gannon's stepmother, getting into a vehicle with the boy on Jan. 27, the day he was reported missing. The video later shows Letecia returning home without Gannon.
The Sheriff's Office and crime lab techs were collecting evidence from the Stauch home, but there is no word on whether investigators had a search warrant or if there was something specific they were focusing on. No further information about the activity at the house has been released by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
EPCSO said they have received 231 tips so far and that the Crime Lab Unit will continue to collect evidence from the Stauch house for the next few days. A News5 crew went to the family's home Wednesday and saw District Attorney Dan May. The Sheriff's Office said that May being at the home does not mean the search efforts are changing.
Jacqueline Kirby with the Sheriff's Office said since 2015, this is the first time the Sheriff's Office is dealing with a situation like this and that they are doing everything they can to bring Gannon home safe.
"The thought of your child being missing, not knowing where they may be, is torture for any parent. And Gannon's family, Gannon's parents are living every parent's worst nightmare," Kirby said.
The investigation so far
Gannon has now been missing for two weeks since his stepmother said he left their home in the Lorson Ranch neighborhood off of Marksheffel Road in Security, Colorado. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said Letecia told authorities he was headed to a friend's house down the street. He was last seen wearing a blue jacket and jeans. He is 4'9" and weighs 90 pounds.
Authorities were treating Gannon as a runaway until Thursday when the status changed to Missing and Endangered based upon the length of time and medications he needs. The change also brings in additional resources from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other agencies.
Investigators have received more than 300 tips in this case. They are searching specific areas based on information gathered so far. Investigators want to interview everyone in the neighborhood in the hopes of finding a thread to follow in this case.
As rumors have run rampant on social media, authorities have asked people to not take any stock in or share this false information that could cause problems in the investigation as people call in tips based on bad information.
Parents plea for help
News5 spoke with Al Stauch who explained he was out of town over the weekend for training with the National Guard. He says his wife knew something was wrong when Gannon did not come home after several hours.
"We kind of do the street light rule. When the street lights come on or it gets dark, they better be home and it was like maybe 30 minutes past that. Started to worry at that point. Then I started texting all the friends that we know he goes to and nobody had seen him," Stauch said.
He said Gannon didn't let them know what friend's house he was going to in the neighborhood and that this was "unlike him so that's why we're obviously really concerned." Eventually, the police were called. "Once we went through that whole checklist it's like, you know, where could he be?" Stauch said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Office tip line at (719) 520-6666 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gannon's parents, who are divorced, came together at a press conference Jan. 30 to ask for continued assistance in bringing their son home safe.
"It's so hard just to think why is this happening to him. Gannon, bubba, little man, mommy's hero, wherever you're at, mommy and daddy's here and we're begging and pleading for you to come home," Gannon's mother Landen Hiott said. She traveled from Oklahoma to beg for help from the public. "I'm begging bring my baby home. My kid deserves to come home. My kid has a purpose. My kid has a life. I'm begging, I'm pleading, if anybody has any type of lead put yourself in my situation, ask yourself what would you do?"
Al Stauch thanked the community for the overwhelming support. "I came out my front door, I think it was Tuesday, and there were 300 people out there searching my neighborhood. They blew me away. Thank you everyone," he said. "Gannon. Daddy loves you so much. Please come home."
A community comes together
People across the community have spent time searching the area around the family's home. Now, the Sheriff's Office is accepting applications for volunteers to make this a better coordinated process. A link to apply is available on the sheriff's office website.
As mentioned, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is assisting in this case. Learn more about all 73 children from Colorado currently being sought with the help of the center, click here.