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A Mother's Dying Plea: Find Your Little Sister


Five-year-old LeeAnna Warner was a spitfire, a bundle of contradictions like so many little girls her age. She was totally fearless and pure tomboy – liked playing in the mud, hated wearing shoes. Yet, she was also a girly girl who would sneak her older sisters’ lipstick, loved playing with Barbies and always wore her sparkly princess crown.

One warm Saturday, after spending the day at garage sales with her mom and 10-year-old sister Karlee, then cooling off at their friend’s lake house, LeeAnna took off to play with a friend before dinner. When she was late coming home, her mom sent Karlee to look for her; she had seen her little sister walking – pretty sure barefooted – to her friend’s house just a block over. But Karlee couldn’t find her, and her mom was starting to panic. 

“Emotions were high,” Karlee recalled of that day, June 14, 2003, when she hopped back on her bike to rejoin the growing search in their small town of Chisholm, Minnesota. “I’m crying, riding my little bike all around town, screaming her name. And it’s just, it was a lot. But I remember all of it. And then even to the point where it became nighttime and the whole block was just out in the street like, okay, what is going on?”

Produced by Karen Daborowski.

Today, nearly 21 years later, no one has figured out what was going on that day. They only know that LeeAnna – affectionately known as “Beaner” because she was so tiny, like a bean, when she was born – is still missing. Despite intensive efforts to find her, despite national publicity about her disappearance, no one has a clue what happened to her or if she’s even still alive. The presumption is that she was abducted. Here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), we’ve just released a new age progression of what LeeAnna might look like today.

Now her sisters, Karlee VanLoo and Whitney Schupp, 31 and 30 respectively, who were just children themselves when their sister disappeared and weren’t even sure what being kidnapped meant, have taken over the search for LeeAnna, who would be 26 years old now. Their mother, Kaelin Warner, died of Stage 4 lung cancer on Dec. 10, 2022, just 42 days after she was diagnosed. Finding LeeAnna was her dying wish.

The photo is an age progressed image showing what LeeAnna might look like today at 26 years old, with dark hair, long with light waves and bang pushed to the side, dark eyes, and a smile. The background is a mottled bright teal -just like what is used for school photos. She is wearing a black shirt.

LeeAnna age-progressed to what she may look like today.

“I remember she was crying hysterically,” Whitney said of her mother, who expressed her wishes before she went to the hospital. “I’m not dying. I'm not dying. But if I do die, I need you and Karlee to find your sister. Give us the answers that we need. Don't stop searching. Bring her home. That's all I want from you. That's all I need from you.” 

The sisters said LeeAnna’s disappearance completely broke their mother, and she was never the same. When LeeAnna disappeared, their mother sat on the front steps for many nights with the porch light on, waiting for her youngest child to come home.

She tried to shield her daughters from details of the investigation and from being even more traumatized by all the TV trucks, search dogs and flashing emergency lights. Karlee lived at the house with LeeAnna, their mother and LeeAnna’s dad, Chris Warner, who worked at one of the mines that surrounded the town and was a volunteer EMT. He was on duty when his daughter vanished and returned that night distraught. Karlee and Whitney have a different dad, and Whitney, who was nine at the time, lived with him. 

All three sisters were close growing up in the mining town, about 200 miles north of Minneapolis, known as “The heart of the Iron Range” with its towering Iron Man statue. They had the run of the place on their bikes, and neighbors looked out for each other’s kids. It was a very friendly, very trusting small town, they said, and everyone loved “Beaner.”

“She was just full of so much charisma, personality,” Whitney said of their “little doll,” who had a very active imagination. “She could go from like ultimate tomboy to putting on, I don't even know how many dresses or skirts in a day – 15? – if she could. I mean, we fought hard, as young sisters often do, but we loved harder for sure.”

Three sisters sit on a big wicker chair inside a room with floral wallpaper. They are all squeezed in together and smiling. They all have dark hair with bangs and the smallest girl, LeeAnna, is wearing a plastic tiara. The middle child is holding a white a gray cat.

(L-R), Whitney, Karlee with their cat, Oscar, and LeeAnna were very close growing up. PHOTO: KARLEE VANLOO and WHITNEY SCHUPP.

No one was home at her friend’s house, and her sisters don’t know if LeeAnna even made it there or where she might have gone after that. LeeAnna’s jelly shoes were found in front of the home, which some found suspicious. But, knowing LeeAnna, who was always ditching her shoes, the sisters said they could have been left there at any time. Over the years, investigators have had a few persons of interest, but no suspects. 

The sisters now hope that DNA and genetic testing will lead them to LeeAnna – that she is possibly still alive and was raised by someone who wanted a child. It’s happened before. In 2022, with the help of DNA, a Texas woman was found alive and reunited with her biological family more than 50 years after she was abducted as a baby.  

The sisters have submitted their DNA to 23 and Me, which helps people learn their ancestry, and they encourage anyone who believes they might be LeeAnna to submit their DNA. Most of all, they want to get LeeAnna’s face and story out to the public in the hopes that someone who knows something will finally come forward. 

The new age progression created by one of NCMEC’s forensic artists will be featured on billboards in Chisholm through the efforts of Missing Children Minnesota, a lifeline for the sisters, in the hopes of jogging someone’s memory. Without their mother’s guidance, it feels like they’re starting from square one.

Beautiful portrait of Kaylee on her wedding day with her mom on one side and her sister Whitney on her other. All three have long dark, wavy hair and fashionable long dresses. Kaylee’s wedding dress is white with an overlayed floral design in white, a long white veil and a bouquet of white flowers and dried wheat and wildflowers.

A time of great joy at Karlee’s wedding for (L-R) their mom, Karlee and Whitney, seven days before their mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. PHOTO: KARLEE VANLOO and WHITNEY SCHUPP.

But they made a promise to her and they intend to keep it. Until then, they’ll always leave their porch lights on.

If you have information about LeeAnna’s disappearance, call 1-800-843-5678. To learn about missing children in your community, you can search here:

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