CALIFORNIA CITY — The city council on Jan. 7 provisionally approved a $25,000 reward to match a combined similar amount offered by businesses to locate two boys reported missing on Dec. 21 in California City.
The approval comes with conditions, including that the reward can only be given if information involves the arrest/conviction of those responsible for the boys' death, something City Manager Anna Linn stressed when introducing the item.
The reward technically expires Jan. 12, but is expected to be reaffirmed along with a formal policy for rewards on that date.
Orrin and Orson Wilson, ages 3 and 4, were reported missing Dec. 21 from their home in the 10700 block of Aspen Ave. During the nearly three weeks since their disappearance, numerous searches have been launched in both California City and Bakersfield.
The adoptive parents, Trezell and Jacqueline West, asserted that the boys went missing from the back yard, where they were last seen while drawing with chalk. The adoptive father said the boys were sent out back while them mother was wrapping presents. The father was collecting wood for a fire from a nearby field and found the boys missing after a few minutes. After an initial search, the parents called the police which led to an extensive search that night.
Since then, California City Police Department and partner agencies have conducted some searches of the parents' home, collecting evidence. The FBI interviewed the adoptive parents and others. However, no suspects have been named.
GreenStone Cannabis Dispensary and Preferred Towing have offered a combined reward $20,000 for information leading to the location of the two boys, while Murphy's Pool and Spa offered an additional $5,000.
While the council approved the $25,000 match, it didn't come without discussion.
Councilmember Karen Macedonio said she could not find any policy regarding the city's handling of reward money.
Linn, the city manager, said the city doesn't have a policy, noting past funds for rewards "were simply committed from council."
California City has several rewards on the table for CCPD's cold cases, each for $25,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those parties. The $25,000 amount was approved by the city council as a consent calendar item on April 9, 2019, as a request from retired Police Chief Eric Hurtado.
Macedonio requested the item be tabled until the Jan. 12 meeting so the council could have a policy to fall back on.
"I would like for nothing more than to find these boys and return them home," Macedonio said. But she said due to a discussion at a previous meeting, "I've done a lot introspective thinking and discovered that if I don't understand the mechanism of how the money flows and how it works, I can't vote to expend public funds on something I don't understand."
She asked whether the funds for the city's match are under the city's control and whether they exist at all.
Mayor Jeanie O'Laughlin recalled that during her time as finance director, the city budget included a line item for reward money. Linn said the city didn't include one for the current budget, but would like to re-establish it.
"The funds would come from the reserve in the police," she said, adding that reserve includes about $379,000 set aside. "The money is there."
McLaughlin also addressed the city's cases and the concern over how their families might feel "if we do this without addressing their needs."
Like Macedonio, McLaughlin said the city should have a policy in place.
"I feel right now that the city is in a severe financial issue right now ... the numbers don't lie," McLaughlin said. "As a mother, I can't think of anything worse than losing my children, but on the other hand we are responsible for spending or not the city's money.
Councilman Kelly Kulikoff, while stating the city needs a policy, argued the money should be provisionally approved.
"Every moment does count and this could help bring back the boys or provide information to help the police," Kulikoff said. "We can't just push something aside and say we're going to build the polices and not talk about this."
Kulikoff later added the city shouldn't necessarily tie all the reward money to just arrest and conviction. Some, he said, should be reserved for information alone.
"If people can find these kids, then find these kids," Kulikoff said, "and they run to the police station with them in their hands, they get money for locating them. It doesn't matter if it doesn't solve who had them.
During public comment, resident DJ Twohig agreed the city should establish a policy for rewards and should go beyond mere information.
"We want to find the information and we want to have an arrest and conviction be necessary," Twohig said.
Resident Carolinda Fleming said the boys' disappearance "has landed on our front door" and suggested appealing to the community's churches to help establish a donation-based fund.
"Unfortunately, what drives people to testify and bring forth information is money ... and somebody knows something," Fleming said. "It's impossible for two little boys to just disappear into thin air."