Missing Utah Girl, 5, Believed Hurt — and DNA Allegedly Connects Uncle to Her Disappearance

A 5-year-old Utah girl missing since Saturday is believed to be hurt, and police say they have “strong evidence,” including DNA, that links her uncle to the disappearance.

“We would never dash the hope that we would find her alive,” Logan City Police Chief Gary Jensen said at a news conference Tuesday. “But it’s certainly a concern for us at this point: Lizzy’s safety.”

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley was reported missing Saturday after family members awoke around 9 a.m. to find her and 21-year-old Alex Whipple, an uncle who’d showed up unexpectedly the night before, both gone from her Logan City home.

Police encountered Whipple, who was on foot, around 3 p.m. Saturday about 10 miles away in a rural area of Cache County. He failed to identify himself to officers and had an outstanding warrant for his arrest for not checking in with probation officers. He was also in possession of drug paraphernalia, according to authorities.

Whipple’s criminal past includes a 2016 assault conviction involving domestic violence, and he was on probation for a 2017 conviction for drug possession and a separate 2017 case where he pleaded guilty after leading police on a chase in a stolen vehicle, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

On Saturday, Whipple was arrested on the probation violation and booked into the Cache County jail. On Tuesday, he was ordered held without bail over the objection of his defense attorney, Shannon Demler, reports The Herald Journal.

Demler could not immediately be reached by PEOPLE for comment.

At the news conference, the police chief declined to elaborate on the evidence in the case. “From the evidence we have, we believe that Lizzy is hurt, but we don’t know what condition she is in right now,” he said, according to the outlet.

“I don’t ever want to take hope out of the equation,” he said. “To say it is a recovery — I don’t think I want to go there yet, I don’t want to steal hope from those that are still hopeful.”

Police Captain Tyson Budge previously told PEOPLE: “We have items involved in this incident that we can forensically link to (Whipple) and her from the residence, and also evidence off of him we can link to her.”

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Authorities say Whipple showed up Friday night at his sister’s home, where the family stayed up late and Lizzy last was seen around 2 a.m. Saturday.

“When the parents went to bed she was in the home and Alex was still in the home,” said Budge. “They woke up and both were gone.”

When found later that day by police, Whipple lied about his whereabouts and has been uncooperative with authorities, said Budge. “He said he left around sunrise,” he said. “We don’t have any reason to believe anything he told us. His story changed quite a bit.”

The search by local, state and federal agencies has been a challenge. “She is a 40-pound little teeny girl and it is difficult,” said Budge. “There is a lot of space to search. Ten miles is a huge area. A lot of open fields, a lot of waterway. It is rough searching. He had a lot of hours alone and a lot of space alone.”

On Tuesday, police shared additional images of Whipple on social media and asked the public’s help to track his movements.

“These are photos of Alex Whipple and his clothing on Friday May 24,” according to a Facebook post from the department. “We hope this helps you as you are checking your cameras and smart doorbell systems. If you have video footage please report it to dispatch at 435-753-7555.”

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