Three months after he disappeared, Guy Miller’s relatives hope to recover bodyWhile the official search has stalled for Guy Miller, who is believed to have drowned in a coulee or the Forest River three months ago today, family members are not giving up hope or abandoning their efforts to bring him home.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald
MINTO, N.D. — While the official search has stalled for Guy Miller, who is believed to have drowned in a coulee or the Forest River three months ago today, family members are not giving up hope or abandoning their efforts to bring him home.
“I don’t think we’re done yet, by any means,” his brother, Tony Miller, said. “Every day that the water goes down, that gives us a little more opportunity.”
The 55-year-old Guy Miller was driving a pickup along a gravel road west of Minto on April 29 when floodwaters washed the vehicle off the road, about two miles from the family farm.
Witnesses saw him on the truck and talked with him by phone, but could not reach him in the rushing water. After a friend left the scene to get help, Miller apparently was swept away.
The vehicle, which got hung up on a bank and was partially submerged in the coulee, since has been recovered.
Several organized searches have occurred in the three months since then. Meanwhile, family members and friends have combed the area on foot, four-wheelers and in canoes, looking for clues.
The last official search occurred about two weeks ago by the Grand Forks County Water Rescue Team, commanded by Cpl. Thomas Inocencio of the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department.
“He wanted to bring the scent up to the surface, where the dogs could find it,” Tony Miller said.
So, with the help of Danny Syrup, Tony’s brother-in-law, they used an industrial-sized compressor, together with a long, low-pressure wand. Divers placed the wand into the mud, where the silt had caved into the river during the spring flooding. They then injected air into the wand, creating bubbles in the mud as far as 5 or 6 feet away.
“The thought was, if we could get the air up to the surface, the dog or dogs could pick up a scent,” Miller said. “If he was under there, the dog should pick up something.”
The rescue team had tested the process successfully earlier in a training pond in Grand Forks.
This time, they worked about a three-quarter-mile stretch of a coulee that empties into the Forest River just west of Minto, where Guy Miller’s pickup was found back in April.
Ultimately, the effort failed.
Another organized search is possible in August, perhaps by the water rescue team and a team of search dogs, according to Tony Miller.
“I don’t think it will sink in 100 percent until we find him,” said Kelly Schanilec, a sister.
“It’s almost like he’s still here, in a way, because there is no closure,” said Kim Miller, Tony’s wife. “It’s so hard, especially for the kids. They just don’t get it.”
Guy was the second oldest of six children of John and Marlys Miller: Connie, Guy, Kelly, John, Mary, Tony and Katie.
Schanilec chuckled as she started to describe her older brother.
“Guy? Guy was everything,” she said.
Mason and concrete stamper.
“He used to develop his own pictures,” Schanilec said. “It was amazing. They were so crystal clear. He had his own darkroom in his house and he developed black and white pictures. Double exposures, too.”
“He was a jack of all trades,” Tony Miller added. “He was so talented. He could do anything he wanted to, when he wanted to. He started a lot of projects, but he never found one he wanted to finish.”
Tony Miller still has cassette tapes of his brother and friends impersonating other friends and relatives.
“He played hard. He always had people laughing,” he said. “I’ve told people that when he got to Heaven, he probably said to Jesus, ‘nice sandals,’ or ‘can I give you a haircut?’ That’s just the way he was.”
“He liked to have a good time,” Kim Miller said. “But he mellowed out the last few years, after he had Gavin,” a son who is now 13. “He was a generous man. He had a big heart, a heart of gold. He was so proud of his little Gavin.”
“Guy was a lover of children,” Schanilec said. “They followed him like little ducklings followed their mother.”
So many volunteers
Family members say they’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity and support of people, many of whom they’ve never met.
In late June, for example, a hastily organized search brought out nearly 150 people from all over the region.
“The outpouring of support has been amazing,” Tony Miller said. “The cards, the phone calls, people just showing up to help. It’s been quite a life lesson.”
Schanilec didn’t learn about it until after that search was over, but at least four volunteers that day were people who had lost family members in accidents.
“Two of the girls said to me later that day, ‘Kelly, if you ever want to go look ...’ and the next day I was going to go look, and they both came,” she said. “One had lost the husband in the Red River in a snowmobile accident and the other one lost her husband in an accident.”
Another volunteer that day was a relative of Bryan Grabanski, 43-year-old Warsaw, N.D., man who died in the spring of 2005. His body was recovered about a week after he was reported missing, his partially submerged vehicle found in the flood-swollen Forest River off of a county road east of I-29.
“You just can’t believe how many people have lost somebody in some kind of accident,” Schanilec said. “They cannot imagine what it must be like to lose someone and not have closure.”
Ironically, Grabanski and Guy Miller were friends who once were college roommates.
“Guy was always so fond of Bryan and was just sick when he drowned,” Schanilec said.
They still get telephone calls and emails from people offering to help in the search.
Some friends are aiding the search effort by cutting and removing large trees that have fallen into the river since the flood.
Schanilec and friends have taken more than one canoe trip down the Forest River, between Minto and Ardoch Lake in recent weeks, searching for any signs of her brother.
“The science and the physics and the history suggest that he should have been near his vehicle,” Tony Miller said. “They were confident he was in the coulee.
“I think they’ve pretty much ruled that out now, that he’s buried in mud,” Tony Miller said. “I think they’re pretty much convinced now that he probably made it out of that coulee, where we have focused 80 percent of our efforts and into the Forest River, which is now a little tamer. The water’s down some. The current’s slower.”
“They’ve thrown everything at it,” he added. “A lot of these guys are volunteers on rescue teams from other areas. To think they have spent so many hours of their own time searching for someone they don’t even know, it’s pretty incredible.”
Holding out hope
Family members, for the most part, have returned to the routines of everyday life, working through the week and even finding some time on weekends to relax at the lake.
But Guy and the search is never far from their minds.
“It’s hanging over your head. You know he’s still out there,” Tony Miller said.
“Every night when you go to bed you feel this is not right that he’s not in a nice warm bed,” Schanilec said. “Just knowing that he’s out there is hard. That’s hard. He’s just got to be found. And then it crosses your mind, what if he’s never found? When do you stop looking? That wouldn’t feel right to quit, not until we find him.”
Some members of the family recently attended Camp Good Mourning, an annual grief camp, hosted by Altru Health System’s Hospice program, at Park River Bible Camp for children and teenagers who have experienced death in the family.
“It is so hard for the younger ones,” Schanilec said. “Dad seems to do OK. Mom’s having a hard time lately. She’ll like pick up his picture and just hold him and cry and say, “I miss you so much.”
“We know that so many people are praying,” she said. “Besides prayer, what else is there to do? That’s all we have left to do — just praying, praying, praying — and looking — and now, remembering.”