A Graham teenager whose disappearance Thursday triggered an expensive manhunt was found the next day riding water slides at Great Wolf Lodge in south Thurston County, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Kenneth Colton Laase, 16, was taken into custody by Chehalis Tribal Police. His parents brought him home early Saturday, Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
“We’re glad he’s home safely,” said Ken Laase, the teenager’s father.
The Sheriff’s Department wants prosecutors to consider charging Laase with false reporting of a crime because officers believe the teenager faked his own disappearance in a manner that led to the waste of public resources. Troyer said the department plans to forward its reports on Laase to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
“At 16 years old, you know better,” Troyer said. “People need to know we take these things seriously.”
Laase’s father declined to comment on the Sheriff’s Department’s depiction of how the boy was found.
Laase’s disappearance set off fears that he had been kidnapped because he reportedly posted misleading messages to Twitter implying that he was being followed by someone Thursday afternoon, Troyer said. Laase also left his car running with his cellphone and schoolwork inside.
Troyer estimated that the Sheriff’s Department spent more than $25,000 calling up special resources to search for the teenager, such as canine teams.
“We’re very glad he’s OK and thankful, but from the original circumstances, we expected something much more heinous,” Troyer said.
Deputies scaled down the intensity of their manhunt late Thursday when they received a witness report and a surveillance video suggesting Laase had not been kidnapped.
Laase is a student at Graham-Kapowsin High School. Classmates and teachers posted several messages to social media Thursday expressing fears about his disappearance.
Troyer said Laase hitched a ride to Yelm after leaving his car in East Pierce County at 228th Street East just west of Orting-Kapowsin Highway East.
Laase reportedly made his way to the water park resort overnight. He bought a day pass to ride water slides Friday morning.
Another guest at the resort recognized Laase from TV reports about his disappearance and called officers, Troyer said.
“It’s like the boy who cries wolf,” Troyer said. “We don’t want the public to think we don’t mean it when we say we need help.”