LL EXCLUSIVE: Kidnapped girl found thanks to trucker’s tip

| 9/17/2004

A kidnapped 5-year-old little girl is safe and sound, reunited with family members after a truck driver spotted the car of the suspected kidnapper and tipped off police.

Stormy Shirk of Topeka, KS, was the subject of a multistate Amber Alert after Topeka police found her mother dead at their home and discovered the child was missing. Topeka officials issued the Amber Alert shortly before noon, Wednesday, Sept. 15.

The Amber Alert identified the child's father, Justin Shirk, as a suspect in the abduction and indicated he was wanted for questioning. The alert also gave a full description of the car and license plate. Police thought the man might have been headed to Oregon.

"I was going across Nebraska earlier in the day and they have (Amber Alert) sign boards in several places," Wade Wierenga said. "They had a sign up saying they were looking for a Dodge Intrepid."

Later on in the day, Wierenga stopped at Bosselman's Travel Center in Grand Island, NE, and saw a flyer about the Amber Alert at the fuel desk and picked up a few more details.

"That's how I knew they were looking for the guy anyway," he said.

Later on as he was driving on I-80 near Laramie, a car passed him.

"I saw a man and girl in the car, but it looked silver, and the alert said they were looking for a gold Dodge Intrepid," Wierenga said. "But, once they got in front of me, I thought the car might be gold."

Then he realized that while the car was clean, mud had been smeared on the license plate.

"That just didn't seem right, especially since the car was clean," he said.

So Wierenga eased up closer to the car and was able to read the license plate numbers. He couldn't tell what state the tag was from, but at 8 p.m. he went ahead and called the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

"They said it was definitely the car they were looking for," Wierenga said.

There wasn't a trooper in the area when Wierenga called, so he just dropped back about a quarter of a mile and kept an eye on the car while staying on the phone with the highway patrol dispatcher.

"I just tried to keep an eye on the guy, he was going a pretty good clip," Wierenga said. "But, I think he knew I was following him, because all of a sudden he bailed off in between two other trucks and took an exit to a county road."

Since there weren't any officers in the area yet, Wierenga decided to follow the car off the ramp.

"It was getting dark and I didn't want that guy getting away," he said. "But, it was hard to do. I didn't want him to feel cornered and maybe do something to the little girl."

Shirk pulled off the county road and turned his headlights off. Wierenga kept going and returned to the on-ramp to I-80.

"I figured I could keep an eye on him from there and make sure he didn't get back on [the interstate]," Wierenga said.

Police arrived a few minutes later

An Albany County, WY, Sheriff's Deputy found the car about four miles east of the interstate as it turned off of state Highway 12 and pulled down a private lane toward a residence, according to a Wyoming Highway Patrol press release.

Once the vehicle stopped, the 5-year-old girl eventually got out the vehicle and ran toward the sheriff's deputy and his car.

Police found the suspect, her father, outside the car with a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to the release.

Police took the girl to a Laramie area foster home while she waited for her grandparents and a social worker from the Topeka area to pick her up.

"I really didn't do anything other than have the [Amber Alert] information," Wierenga said. "I've got three daughters and two little granddaughters, and I thought, man, if one of them were in that kind of situation, I would want people to pay attention and try to help."

"That Amber Alert is a fantastic system," he said.

The girl is in good health was with to family at home in the Topeka area the following day.

- By Jami Jones, feature editor