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Parents cling to hope that daughter is still alive

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The parents of Acacia Bishop say too many red flags have been raised for them to believe their daughter drowned a year ago in Idaho.

Acacia was allegedly kidnapped by her grandmother, 39-year-old Kelley Jean Lodmell, on May 25, 2003, in Murray. Lodmell allegedly drove with the girl to Idaho Falls. Police believe the next day Lodmell jumped with the 19-month-old into a pond that flows into the Snake River.

But Adam Bishop and Casey Lodmell, Acacia's parents, believe police are basing their conclusions on too much circumstantial evidence and are ignoring other leads that point to Acacia's being alive.

"There's too many possibilities of other people being involved that you can't turn your eye from it," Bishop said.

Bishop said one of the strongest leads is from a receptionist at the Red Lion in Idaho Falls where Lodmell and Acacia stayed the night. The receptionist said on the day Acacia was allegedly drowned, an unknown man handed in their room key while Lodmell and Acacia waited in the lobby, Bishop said.

The receptionist contacted Bishop, who eventually hired a local artist to do a composite drawing of the man. Bishop says Idaho Falls police will not take the sketch seriously.

Idaho Falls Police Sgt. Steve Hunt said all of the theories of Acacia's being with another person have been investigated, and there simply isn't any evidence to support them.

"The evidence we have is Kelley jumped into the water with Acacia, and Kelley swam out and Acacia stayed in," he said.

Detectives have gone through Kelley Lodmell's phone records and interviewed friends and acquaintances in Utah, Idaho and Montana, Hunt said, and have not found evidence to support Acacia was given to another person.

Still, that's little consolation to Bishop.

"We just got the runaround from the police department up there," he said. "They made us do our own investigation."

Bishop and Casey Lodmell marked the one-year anniversary of their daughter's abduction, which was also National Missing Children's Day, May 25 by attending a rally in Portland, Ore., aimed at raising awareness to the problem of missing and abducted children.

The couple returned to Utah the next night. But their stay is expected to be brief. Bishop said they planned on moving out of state in less than a week to an undisclosed location.

The move is partly to get away from the spotlight that has been on them since the kidnapping and "get our bearings straight" and partly to go to a place where they can raise more money to investigate their daughter's disappearance.

Bishop and Lodmell spent almost a year in Idaho Falls looking for Acacia following her abduction. Bishop believes Lodmell did not drive to Idaho Falls at random. If she wanted to drown Acacia she could have done it in her own back yard in Utah, he said. The reason may have been to meet up with an unknown third party, Bishop said.

"Acacia is still out there. There has never ever been any sightings of Acacia. We believe she is hidden out somewhere. There was never any proof she was even in the water," Bishop said.

Investigators found Acacia's shoes, pacifier and doll, along with one adult-sized shoe and two stockings, on the bank of the pond where they allegedly jumped in and were swept into the river.

But Bishop claims the clothes found on the river bank weren't the clothes Acacia was last seen in.

Furthermore, Bishop said he can't believe that only two people saw Lodmell walking near the water with Acacia even though the alleged drowning happened near one of the city's most popular tourist areas on a holiday weekend.

Bishop believes Lodmell had planned Acacia's abduction for months and had tried to recruit others to help her. Even today, he said, Lodmell writes letter from jail saying she hopes whoever has Acacia is taking care of her.

"There are too many clues left that something else is going on," he said.

Lodmell was originally charged with murder and kidnapping in Idaho's 7th District Court. A month after those charges were filed, federal kidnapping charges were filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, putting the state charges on hold.

A mental competency evaluation last year determined Lodmell was competent to stand trial, but a second evaluation was ordered by the court. Results of that evaluation were still pending Friday.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com