CALIFORNIA CITY, Calif. (KGET) — In an exclusive interview with 17’s Perla Shaheen, California City Chief of Police Jon Walker talked about the investigation of missing brothers Orrin and Orson West.
Q: Are the boys alive?
A: California City Chief of Police, Jon Walker: I have no reason to believe they’re not at this time. I’ve said it through this whole thing I remain absolutely optimistic that they are alive and I have to believe that unless I find some sort of proof or evidence that is different.
Q: And what might’ve happened to the boys, what scenarios are possible in this situation?
A: There’s 1,000 different scenarios. Let your imagination run wild. What I do truly believe: that night there’s no way that they could have got out of that neighborhood without some sort of assistance from an adult, that is my belief.
Q: And so in past situations, with missing cases, is that usually the case? That it’s someone familiar that is involved?
A: It’s always situationally driven and I can’t point fingers. We always start from the inside out. Of course, the people closest to them, the people who’ve seen them last, that’s who we always start with. We always look at family first, especially with kids that young. We have to, and from there it branches out from their depending on which way the evidence goes but we can only work with what we’re given.
Q: And earlier I know in our first interview, in front of the house on Aspen Avenue, you said that you suspected foul play. Do you still think that, why or why not?
A: Absolutely, I personally believe that those kids got out of that neighborhood with some sort of assistance. So, if there was an adult that assisted them or took them out of the neighborhood that would constitute foul play.
Q: So exactly, what constitutes foul play, it doesn’t necessarily means abuse?
A: Well foul play means that someone has taken the children and not divulged to their parents where they’re at. That’s just, we’ll start basic 101 right there. Somehow, someone had to have done that and has not reported to us. Everyone, I would at least say in the nation, knows we’re looking for these kids has not reported it. That would constitute foul play, because the only people those kids are supposed to be with are their parents
Q: Are there any persons of interest right now?
A: Oh there’s dozens of persons of interest. We have nobody specific, we have no specific suspects. No one has been charged. We’ve brought no charges so far. But again, we are continuing the investigation. I know a lot of people believe we’ve given up, that’s not true. We still get leads, we still get clues everyday that we follow up on, if they’re viable. If someone says, ‘Hey we saw them at the Rite Aid yesterday at 10 o’clock in the morning.’ Am I going to send somebody over there to review the cameras from yesterday at 10 o’clock in the morning? Absolutely, I’m going to. If someone says ‘Well I think they’re near the water somewhere’, I can’t follow up on that. I need specifics. I need a direction to go. I can’t just spin in a circle or have my people spin in a circle looking. If you give me a specific place and a time or a specific person to talk to, we’re still doing that.
Q: And going on that, as you say, you’re still working on this investigation?
A: I have dedicated resources in my department. Bakersfield has dedicated resources from their department. We’ve got the FBI involved, we’ve got the Kern County Sheriff involved. we’ve got the Kern County District Attorney involved. There’s still a ton of people working on this we have not by any means given up.
Q: Recently it was the two month anniversary of when the boys went missing. Every time we speak it’s seems like the days get longer and the days turn into months. Is it possible that this case will go cold and that we’ll never know what happened to these boys?
A: Of course it’s possible. I mean anything is possible. But go cold that would mean that we stop looking or we’d stop looking into clues, and that’s not gonna happen. We will continue to follow up on any clues, will continue until we know something different. So there’s a lot of semantics involved there. Cold case, what does that mean really? A cold case is never really cold, it’s just not being actively investigated. I’ve got 8 cold cases here in California City as we speak and they’re all being investigated on a daily basis, so that’s a TV term I think.
Q: OK I know the city is voting tonight or they’re deciding at the City Council meeting to renew the reward money for anyone who can find the boys. I know they’re planning to do that consistently- they’re trying to keep that money for any missing persons case. If we find Orrin and Orson West, they might extend that money to other missing persons cases. So it seems that the city and you are still actively trying to pursue the city’s eight missing persons cases.
A: No that’s not true we’ve only got two active missing persons cases. We’ve got eight cases that we are still investigating six of those are homicides and two of them are missing. Those are all adult cases, so again a missing adult doesn’t necessarily mean it was foul play. Is there a possibility? Sure, but they’re adults and they’re free to go wherever they want. They don’t necessarily have to tell anyone where they’re going. So if someone reports the missing, OK we’ve got an open missing person investigation that goes into our missing person system. If anybody nationwide comes in contact with that person then that will immediately pop up in the database.
Q: Are you starting to think that this case is part of something larger? Something like human trafficking?
A: I can’t rule that out, I can’t rule anything out. Of course it’s possible. Anything is possible until we know different. Everything is still in play, so we need specific facts to prove otherwise.
Q: But your guys are considering all of these viable options?
Q: How certain are you that the boys are not in the Aspen Avenue house? I know when you first did the interview, you told us the K9s smelled the scent of the boys inside the house, they did not smell it leaving the house. It seems like that would imply that they are still there. How certain are you that they are not?
A: Excuse me, I have to smile at that. I am 110% certain those boys are not in that house. I’ve been in there numerous times, we’ve searched every possible place in that house. I know people believe that there’s secret rooms and there’s a basement and there’s false walls. We’ve searched every possible nook and cranny in that house multiple times. I am absolutely certain, we’ve searched the backyard multiple times, we’ve searched underground of the backyard with different technology multiple times with nothing. The dogs aren’t always 100% accurate. We’ve had the dogs in the house. that night they alerted inside the house but did not alert us outside, doesn’t mean anything. We use those as tools that maybe will point us one way or the other. Just like people keep asking about polygraph. Polygraph is not admissible as Court. Is it a tool? Sure. Can believe at some point that maybe you are being deceptive by the results of the tests? Sure. But it’s only tool to help us go in a certain direction. Right now we don’t have any of that, unfortunately.
Q: So did the adoptive parents take a polygraph test in the beginning?
A: I can’t comment on that.
Q: Is it possible that the boys wandered into the desert that night? I know you suspect foul play, but is that also something you’re considering?
A: If I had to bet my house on it, I would say no. Because we searched thoroughly that night, we brought in Airship with infrared, and got no hits. We searched that whole desert a week later within a 5 mile 5 mi.² perimeter around the house, we found nothing. Doesn’t mean they’re not there, but I am super confident. I know little kids are really fast, but I know they have no stamina. So they might take off like a shot, but they’ll only go about 20 or 30 yards in my experience. I’m saying that can’t happen, but I am super confident that they are not somewhere around. I truly believe they didn’t wander off in the desert that night and we haven’t found them.
Q: It was also very cold night I believe I remember that day it was about 30°F.
A: Very cold again would’ve slowed them down.
Q: Could you explain that infrared technology you just mentioned what was used?
A: Yeah we basically had a helicopter with what they call a FLIR. It will detect body heat, it’s pretty sophisticated. I did have the opportunity in my previous law enforcement career that I got to actually work in airship and it’s basically like a scope that’ll go over any territory, any land. It will pick up anything that has body heat and you know adults are generally 97°F it’ll pick that up in the dark. And it shows up like a beam basically.
Q: It’s a helicopter that goes around and detects, searching for body heat?
A: It has the ability to do that, yes, along with other things. They also have the night sun – that’s what they call that big searchlight but also there are equipped with that FLIR that will pick up body heat.
Q: And that was sent out that night that they went missing?
A: It was deployed that night. Yes, to the best of my knowledge.
Q: Was it one? Or multiple?
A: I think we had at least one in the air the whole time. A lot of the times those helicopters are only equipped to be up for 2 to 2.5 hours. We were out there for a pretty long time. So I would imagine that they probably switched off at some point.
Q: When I first met the biological mother of the two boys, she had mentioned how one of them had a broken femur. This was a couple of years ago, I know I saw it on the Attorney General’s website as well. Orrin had a broken femur, the biggest bone in the body, in his leg. Did the bone heal at the point the boys went missing?
A: Yeah it had been years prior, I think even prior to them adopting the kids. To the best of my knowledge, that was ruled as an accident. I’m sure there was an investigation done by children services and they found no misconduct.
Q: OK, no misconduct with the biological mother?
A: Yeah with anybody. I believe, to the best of my knowledge, that it was just ruled an accident. That he broke his leg, he fell down somehow, and he broke his leg. However, that would be a good way to identify- that’s a good identifier.
Q: What is? The surgery?
A: No, if we locate a child that had a broken femur that was consistent with the injuries sustained by the children, its another way to ID the kids.
Q: But it’s not relevant in this situation?
A: No it has nothing to do with the with their disappearance, not that I know of.
Q: But I’m saying it’s already healed, so it’s not relevant.
A: Right it was a prior injury.
Q: Is it possible that they are with extended family members right now and have you done anything to pursue that possibility- questioned extended family members?
A: We’ve questioned everyone around them. We start with the immediate family and work our way out, so we’ve done our best to question anybody and everybody that can possibly be related. But I don’t know, it’s a pretty big family. If someone had them, I guess that would be great, that they’re healthy and alive and we can find them. That would be awesome. Our best case scenario is we find them healthy and we find them alive.
Q: And I remember that, again referring to that first interview with you, you said how none of the neighbors in that area had seen the boys.
A: I think I amended that. Because we did have some neighbors that said they had never even seen kids. But remember, the Wests had only been there for three months, September to December, when it occurred. We did find some neighbors that had said they had never seen the kids. However we did find neighbors who confirmed that they did see kids there on the property.
Q: So that was later on?
A: Yeah that was actually shortly after. That’s why I’ve tried to amend that multiple times. Initially, we couldn’t find anyone who has seen the kids but we did actually find other neighbors who had seen kids there. The West family had only been there three months. COVID all those things, cold weather, all that can attribute to that. They had a huge backyard with a fence and here in California City, you’ve been to the neighborhood, there’s large vacant lots between the properties.
Q: Is it still true that the adoptive parents are the last people to have seen the kids?
A: According to the information that we received that night from them, yes.
Q: There’s been no one else? No after sightings of the kids ever since?
A: Multiple and we followed up on all of them – proven to be false.
Q: So the adoptive parents are considered to have been the last people to see the kids. When and where was the last time someone besides them saw Orrin and Orson?
A: I believe the grandmother had seen them prior. I don’t know the exact dates, but the people that we have spoken to (in the neighborhood) had seen them other than the parents.
Q: So that was the relative they visited before, it was like recently before they went missing, correct?
Q: When did the other children in the family say that they last saw the boys?
A: I can’t comment on any interviews that we’ve had with the other kids.
Q: But you’ve interviewed the other four kids?
Q: And are the Wests still cooperating, Jacqueline and Trezell, have they retained a lawyer?
A: Yes they are still cooperating. I don’t know if they’ve retained counsel or not.
Q: OK so you’re still in contact with them. Can I ask when was the last time they were interviewed?
A: Formally interviewed, I think it’s been several weeks.
Q: Are the members of the birth family cooperating as well?
A: Uhh they- yes. Yes.
Q: And have they retained a lawyer?
A: Not to my knowledge.
Q: And when was the last time you spoke with them or or interviewed them?
A: Personally, the last time I spoke with the biological mother, it was a conference call the day after the boys went missing.
Q: Ok so its been quite a while since you last spoke with a biological mother?
A: I personally, yes. Other people have been in contact with her, but I have not.
Q: Has anyone been instructed not to speak to the media? Like the adoptive parents biological parents…
A: Not by us. Maybe by their attorneys, but not by us.
Q: Is there video footage of that shows the boys in California City? I know the neighbor across the street had a doorbell camera. I know the neighbor to the left of the house, if you’re facing the house to the left, also had surveillance footage of the house. I know police took that footage and analyzed it. Was there any footage that shows the two boys?
A: We have hours of footage and I cannot comment on any of those, on any of that.
Q: I called initially a few months ago, I know other people have called since, regarding the initial 9-11 call for the two boys. From what I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, it happened just before 6 PM correct?
A: It happened about 5:45 PM. Let me correct that the initial call for service came at 5:45. My first officer was on scene within five minutes or less. I think within 10 minutes I had four officers on scene.
Q: Is there a reason why the department won’t release the 9-1-1 call? I tried to get it and didn’t receive it.
A: No because it’s still part of the investigation. It’s an ongoing investigation so we’re not going to release.
Q: I mean, I’ve received 9-1-1 calls from ongoing investigations before.
A: We are not going to release it at this time.
Q: OK so it’s because it’s an ongoing investigation? That’s the main reason?
A: Correct, we’re keeping it for now.
Q: We talked about the evidence that you’ve recovered, searches of the home around the home. You had mentioned that none of it really came out with anything important. Could you mention any of the evidence that has been taken, including forensics, anything that was relevant or important?
A: You know the initial search warrant, we were able to take into custody (the adoptive parents’) the electronic devices, phones, computers, clothes, bedding, items from the backyard, items from the house, anything we thought that could possibly be relevant or lead us to a conclusion.
Q: So some of the clothes of Orrin and Orson to navigate the scent of them with the dogs and things like that?
A: And you know for DNA purposes and all of that.
Q: Those things have helped in terms of that analysis, but it hasn’t created any leads for finding them?
A: No, not yet.
Q: You mentioned that you took the phones of the two parents just a day or two after the boys went missing.
A: Actually it was the next day.
Q: Yea it was the next day. I remember talking to them and they mentioned, ‘the police took our phones, we can’t share our contact information’. Jacqueline West had mentioned having photos of the boys on her phone that she couldn’t share because police had taken her phone. Did you find anything significant on those phones? Did you find any pictures of the boys?
A: Yeah we found pictures, but nothing else that I can disclose.
Q: Is there a reason why no more pictures of the boys have been released so far? I guess the police department doesn’t have access to those photos.
A: I no longer have access to those photos. No, those actually were taken by the FBI.
Q: But the parents have since gotten the phones back?
A: I believe they have new phones.
Q: Wow, so the FBI just took their phones?
A: I believe they got them back, but yeah they have new phones.
Q: So you don’t have any access to more recent photos of the boys? Is there a reason why Jacqueline hasn’t released those photos to the public? I know a lot of people are looking for a more recent photos of Orrin and Orson.
A: I can’t speak to what her thought process is, what she’s choosing to do or what not to do.
Q: Lastly what can community members do to help in the search right now? Should they be searching in Bakersfield? California City?
A: Wherever they think we’re going to turn up these kids I’m not going to turn down. I’ve said it multiple times I’m not going to turn down any help. Anything they want to do to help us locate these kids is great, but the majority of the calls that we’re getting now are basically to tell us that we’re not doing it right. That takes up a lot of our time to even respond to that. I appreciate their interest, that’s why I keep giving these interviews, I don’t want people to stop thinking about these kids and I don’t want it to become a dead issue. I would like the focus to be on finding the kids. What can you give us that we can tangibly follow up on to find these children? To call us up and criticize that we’re not doing a good job or we should be talking to someone else or we should be doing this or we should be doing that, it’s not productive. It takes time because we try to be respectful and kind to anybody that calls. But just remember the focus should be on finding the kids not telling us how to do her job so that would be my biggest request keep your eyes and ears open. If you find anything that we can follow up on please call, we will follow up I promise we have on each and every one of these tangible leads. But to just call us up and criticize us and ask us, that just takes a lot of time and it just is taking away the focus from the kids.