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Shaffer Elementary lets PIs seeking missing girl in building

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Student not connected to search for missing child

By AJ Vicens

Two private investigators looking for a missing child were allowed into Shaffer Elementary School last Friday to seek information on an 8-year-old female student because the staff believed they were law enforcement officers, the district says.

Principal Gina Rivas apparently helped the investigators identify the girl, who turned out not to be involved in the matter. In addition, Rivas didn't contact the Jeffco Sheriff's Office until the private investigators insisted it be called.

The parents of the girl are upset that the school would expose their daughter to the private investigators without calling them or confirming who the investigators were.

Jeffco Public Schools is investigating whether Rivas acted improperly, spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said. The district says Rivas and other school employees believed they were dealing with police officers.

"We're doing our own investigation and still collecting facts," Setzer said. "If it turns out we need to do more communicating or training with our principals, we'll certainly do that."

John Sampson, the private investigator who went to Shaffer Elementary and possibly other Jeffco schools looking for the missing girl, said he told Rivas up front exactly who he was.

"We ID'd ourselves as private investigators up front," Sampson said. He added that Rivas worked with him and another investigator for several hours before Sampson insisted law enforcement officers be called. He also said he was working under a court order in looking for a girl who may have been kidnapped. He resents any implication that he deceived anyone at the school or would have tried to take custody of a child.

"The whole purpose of calling (the Jeffco Sheriff's Office) is that we understand and know very well that we don't have the authority to grab anybody," Sampson said. "And we wouldn't do that."

Setzer said Rivas and other school officials "were under the impression that these were police officers. How that happened, I don't know. That's what we'll figure out."

Setzer added that Rivas and other school officials are telling a different story than the one Sampson is, but that she couldn't discuss the details.

Setzer acknowledged that district procedure does require school administrators to confirm the credentials of law enforcement officers, but that she's not sure it happened in this case.

"That's one of the things we're trying to figure out," Setzer said. She added that in some cases parents aren't contacted during investigations.

"Sometimes parents are not involved at the request of the agency doing the investigating," Setzer said.

Jeffco sheriff's spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said a deputy responded to the school and determined the girl was not the girl one in question after talking with school officials, Sampson and the girl's parents. Kelley said there is no allegation of police impersonation in the incident.

Kelley added that deputies should be involved in any situation that involves looking into potential crimes.

"We would have preferred to have been called much sooner," Kelley said. "We could have provided some more expertise, some guidance and come to a resolution quicker. If there's ever a question, we would ask people to ask the school district to call us and let us work that out. It is our job to have to respond and investigate incidents or crimes that happen at schools involving students or staff."

Sampson said he believes Rivas and the school district are "trying to limit their exposure," and repeats that he did nothing wrong.

"I understand the parents' concerns," Sampson said. "But the insinuation that we would have taken, abducted or whatever verb you want to use, is particularly offensive to me because we're the ones that contacted the sheriff's office."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

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Specifics on the private investigator's search for the kidnapped girl were withheld at the request of the private investigator, who feared it would jeopardize the search.