CHARLES CITY | Now with a conviction for the 2005 murder and sexual assault of a Floyd girl, the nearly 200 citizen volunteers and law enforcement officers who spent nearly a week searching for the child are processing their feelings about the events of 10 years ago.
On Tuesday, a Hamilton County jury found Casey Frederiksen guilty of first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree murder in the death of 5-year-old Evelyn Celeste Miller. Frederiksen faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Rev. Paul Phillips of the Gospel Lighthouse Church in Floyd was one of the volunteers who helped comb a large area of Floyd County for six days in the July summer heat and humidity looking for Evelyn.
"I think the whole community is in relief that it is over. It's taken a long time and there's the terrible tragedy of this young girl's death. It just doesn't happen that often, if ever, in our community. I think people are relieved and they feel like justice has been served," Phillips said.
Phillips said they had hoped to find Evelyn alive.
"It was just kind of an eerie feeling," Phillips said about the search. "When you're walking through the cornfields or in a wooded area you're thinking, are you going to be the one to find this girl's body?"
Floyd County Chief Deputy Jeff Crooks had been with the sheriff's office for about eight months when Evelyn went missing.
Crooks was the law enforcement officer who got the call from dispatch that a canoeist on the Cedar River had found a body believed to be that of Evelyn in some brush.
He went down a steep embankment and identified the body.
Crooks said his family, especially his wife Kerry, helped him deal with what he saw and experienced. Frederiksen's conviction has given him a "feeling of relief."
"It was just a long time coming. This whole ordeal has been a part of me ever since I started in law enforcement, It was definitely a sigh of relief to finally get that verdict to come in," Crooks said.
Steve O'Neil, emergency management director, worked with the North Iowa Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in coordinating the search and running the command center.
He is relieved that the person responsible for Evelyn's death has been convicted.
"There is that kind of evil in the world," he said.
"My heart just breaks thinking that a child of that age should not have had to go through that kind of traumatic event and then that violent end. That part disturbs me quite a bit."
Floyd County Sheriff Rick Lynch said "a huge burden was lifted off my heart" with the jury's guilty verdict.
"We are very, very happy that Evelyn finally got her justice and that the family of Evelyn finally has some closure and hopefully will heal some of the wounds they have," Lynch said.
"July 6 (the day Evelyn was found) is a day that something was taken away from me that I'll never have back again. I know that is true with the other officers, too."
He recalled five sheriff's deputies, Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jack Seward gathering near the area where Evelyn's body was found.
Seward told Lynch it would take two people to remove her body and make sure any evidence was preserved. One of his deputies would have to help him recover Evelyn's body.
Lynch said he turned and looked at his deputies.
"I had to make that decision. Which deputy am I going to do this to? That was probably one of my toughest decisions I ever had to make in my entire career." He knew they would never forget what they saw that day.
Veteran Floyd County Deputy Brian Tiedemann assisted Lynch with recovering Evelyn's body.
"We've had our talks about that. You need to do that," Lynch said.
"The murder and the rape of a 5-year-old is not a sprint. It's a marathon and the day we got the verdict we crossed the finish line. That marathon took us 10 years."