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Reward is $500,000 in missing tot case

SHARE Reward is $500,000 in missing tot case

The reward for the safe return of Acacia Patience Bishop — the Utah toddler allegedly kidnapped by her grandmother over the Memorial Day weekend — has ballooned to $500,000.

The reward was pledged by an anonymous individual through a local church in Idaho Falls, said Acacia's father, Adam Bishop. The money is for information that leads to Acacia's safe return as well as the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for her kidnapping. The reward is double the amount offered last year for the safe return of Elizabeth Smart.

"We're really grateful to this individual that is putting it up," Bishop said during a telephone interview Monday from Idaho Falls.

But even as Acacia's parents continue their search for their daughter, Idaho Falls police refuse to budge from their theory that the toddler, then 19 months old, was drowned in the Snake River the morning of May 26 by her grandmother, Kelley Jean Lodmell.

"That feeling hasn't changed," Idaho Falls Police Sgt. Steve Hunt said Monday. "From the prosecuting attorney's standpoint and from the police department's standpoint, we've always felt like there's enough evidence at this point to get a murder conviction."

Lodmell is charged with kidnapping and murder in Idaho, but those charges are on hold while Lodmell undergoes a mental competency evaluation as part of federal kidnapping charges filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City. A hearing on the evaluation is scheduled for today in federal court.

The kidnapping and murder charges in Idaho are based on evidence, including statements from Lodmell herself, that the 38-year-old woman jumped into the fast-moving waters of the Snake River in a murder-suicide attempt.

But Bishop's body has yet to turn up anywhere. And the dogged determination of her parents, Adam Bishop and Casey Lodmell, to find their daughter alive has strained their relationship with local police. River searches for the girl ended in late July, and one detective remains on the investigation, which the department currently characterizes as a "cold case."

"The reason that it's a cold case is that there hasn't really been much new credible evidence that's been brought forward since the initial few days of the investigation," Hunt said. "So yeah, it's a cold case, but it still remains open."

Police officials declined to discuss the growing rift with Acacia's family but did say their department had refused to have its name printed on several missing fliers that were being donated by an Internet site for missing children.

"How can we put those out saying that we're searching for her when we're pursuing a homicide case?" Hunt asked rhetorically. "We believe she's dead. We don't want to send a conflicting message out, especially in Idaho Falls where people are going to be potential jurors, and confuse them about whether or not this is a missing-person case or a homicide case. The department believes it's a homicide case."

Acacia's parents have vowed to continue their search, even without the help of local police. They still work out of a small donated office in Idaho Falls and are living with friends in the area. They're scraping to get by — neither one of them has a job because they devote their time to finding Acacia — but they refuse to give up hope. They've gone on a local AM talk show a few times over the past six weeks to keep their message out.

Small bits of information continue to boost their hope. Like the call earlier this month they received from a truck driver who spotted a girl matching Acacia's description with a man and woman near Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. The couple appeared to have been sleeping in their car, the truck driver reported.

"When he was standing there at Old Faithful, the little girl came up to him and he was like, 'Hi, how are you,' and she said 'hi,' " Bishop said. "The mom came up and he said, 'How old is your kid?' and she didn't know how old she was."

Bishop said he passed the information on to Yellowstone police and the FBI.

E-MAIL: djensen@desnews.com