Social media have opened a window into law enforcement's search for Sydney Loofe in a missing persons investigation unlike any authorities have worked in the past, a former FBI special agent said this week.
The 24-year-old Lincoln woman's Snapchat photo posted before Nov. 15, the last day she was seen, gave a glimpse of her circumstances before her disappearance, said Weysan Dun, who led the FBI's Omaha Division from 2009 to 2012.
After authorities identified two "persons of interest" in the case last week, the two posted videos to Facebook and YouTube denying involvement in Loofe's disappearance.
A decade ago, such statements would have been made to friends or family or in a manifesto to the media, Dun said.
“Aspects of it are playing out in the public eye that you normally wouldn’t be seeing,” said Dun, who worked for the FBI for 30 years.
Now approaching its third week, the search for Loofe has intensified since her family reported her missing when she didn't show up for work.
Investigators have searched a Wilber home where Loofe was last seen Nov. 15 and where the two people of interest lived. Law enforcement scoured creek beds and other areas outside Wilber and Clatonia.
And the FBI has set up a dedicated tip line to aid the federal and local task force's search to find the 5-foot-7 blonde, known as a polite, caring cashier at Menards in north Lincoln.
Her case is one of more than 2,200 missing persons cases worked by Lincoln police this year, an agency spokeswoman said.
Though most are open-and-shut cases of runaways and those running from warrants, 2 percent are not found, former LPD investigator Sgt. Luke Wilke told the Journal Star last year for a series on the city's missing persons.
Law enforcement officials acknowledge these investigations can be a balancing act, where they juggle aiding awareness about the person with protecting the integrity of their search.
On social media, people curious about Loofe's case clamor for more details about the hours before her disappearance and what investigators have recovered in their search.
But FBI officials and Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said this week the primary mission driving their investigation is finding Loofe.
"All of these other things are strategies to meet that end," Bliemeister said in an interview. "If we are guarded in our release of information, it is being looked at through the lens of 'If this is released, will it help find Sydney?'"
Lincoln police, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, Nebraska State Patrol and Saline County Sheriff's Office held a news conference last week to stress the need for continued awareness and diligence in the search for Loofe.
The combined efforts appear to Dun to show that the case is headed in the right direction, he said.
"It indicates this investigation is being pursued appropriately and aggressively,” he said.
FBI investigators don't often get involved in missing persons cases but will extend the agency's support in certain cases, he said.
The agency gets involved immediately in kidnappings where there is a belief the suspect and victim may have crossed state lines because of its nationwide jurisdiction, he said.
FBI agents monitor other kidnappings where evidence of interstate travel is not known, he said. For possible kidnapping cases involving children younger than 12, the agency launches an investigation automatically, he said.
When the FBI joins a missing persons investigation, it brings a host of resources, including its forensic evidence analysts, its specialized computer analysts and behavioral analysts often known for their profiles that help guide investigators, he said.
"The FBI brings the ability to cover the entire world,” Dun said.
The agency joins or aids missing person investigations often enough that it's not unusual, he said.
Unlike the drama seen in TV shows and movies, local and federal investigators work well together under their collaborative leaders, Dun said.
Special Agent Randy Thysse, who now heads the FBI's Omaha Division, said on-going investigation precludes investigators from releasing many details on Loofe's case.
But investigators ask for the public's patience as they continue their search, Thysse said.
"We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our law enforcement partners, and we're all committed and we are applying all of our resources to help bring Sydney home," Thysse told reporters Thursday.
As of Friday, calls to the FBI's tip line were climbing, agency spokesman Huston Pullen said.
Anyone with any information believed to be related to the case should call 402-493-8688 and select Option 1.
"If anybody has any information that they think can be helpful, we want to hear it,” Pullen said.