PANOLA COUNTY, TEXAS (KLTV) - "It’s not really a concern of mine that somebody makes up stories about me,” Sheriff Kevin Lake said. “But if it hurts the investigation, I do mind that.”
Panola County Sheriff Kevin Lake is talking about a series of YouTube videos that make allege things like cover-up by the department and turning away search crews when it comes to the search for Lauren Thompson, a mother of three missing since January 10, 2019.
“What I would like to ask our citizens is to realize the people that are putting this information out are not from Panola County," Sheriff Lake said. “The people that are doing this, have no idea about anything in Panola County.”
One of the claims made in the YouTube series, which appears to originate in Australia, is that Texas EquuSearch was turned away, even though the family asked them to join.
“We just felt like with the agencies that were there and the resources available, we had what we needed to search the area that needed to be searched,” Sheriff Lake said.
After searching more than 2,000 acres by foot and more than 8,000 acres by air, it’s unclear where investigators go from here.
“We’re not giving up,” Sheriff Lake said. “At this point we have searched beyond clues that we had. So we’re not exactly sure which way to go from here. And that’s the reason that we have cancelled the ground searches at this time. We don’t really know where else to search.”
An initial search was conducted in the area on foot and also using off-road vehicles. Two canine teams and a drone were later brought in along with law enforcement remaining in the area overnight, according to Sheriff Lake.
An organized grid search was conducted on the second day with the assistance of Texas Parks and Wildlife and DPS, who provided a helicopter. The following week, grid searches continued spanning out from the vehicle location. More canine teams were also brought in.
Additional searches were performed in the weeks and months after. Sheriff Lake says wet conditions delayed several search efforts throughout February and March. A two-day search eventually covered an additional 1,190 acres.
Sheriff Lake says there are no official suspects in the case, but there are persons of interest who have been interviewed. Sheriff Lake says they are the last people who saw Lauren alive. He adds at least one polygraph has also been performed.
“From what we have right now, there’s nothing that directly points to foul play being involved,” Sheriff Lake said. “But am I suspicious? Absolutely. I’m suspicious. It’s hard to understand how somebody can just disappear."