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Body of Red River swimmer found

A search that began Monday with a report of a missing swimmer ended Wednesday afternoon when boat crews pulled the body of 33-year-old Jerry Lewis Boggs from the Red River.

Body recovered
Search personnel gather at the East Grand Forks LaFave Park boat ramp after recovering the body of the missing swimmer Wednesday afternoon below the Kennedy Avenue Bridge. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg

A search that began Monday with a report of a missing swimmer ended Wednesday afternoon when boat crews pulled the body of 33-year-old Jerry Lewis Boggs from the Red River.

Focusing on an area just downstream from the Kennedy Bridge, searchers picked up a sonar image that prompted further investigation.

"The Grand Forks Fire Department boat came over to use the drag bar at which time they were able to recover the body of the missing individual," said Maj. Mike Fonder of the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department.

Fonder said searchers found the body shortly after 3:30 p.m. in about 16 feet of water. It was on the river bottom "a fifth" of the way into the channel about 75 feet downstream from where Boggs' clothes were left on the Grand Forks bank, he said.

The area had been searched earlier, but crews went over it again after talking with one of the two men who had been with Boggs. The man pinpointed where the three had been swimming.

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"That's where they focused in their efforts, and that's where the body was recovered," Fonder said.

The body was brought aboard a boat, put in a body bag and taken upstream to an East Grand Forks boat landing south of the railroad bridge in town. The body was loaded into an ambulance and taken to Altru Hospital for an autopsy. Authorities are presuming that Boggs drowned.

Boggs' name was withheld until Wednesday when his family was notified of his death.

Fonder said Boggs, originally from the Bemidji area, had been staying at the Northlands Rescue Mission in Grand Forks and occasionally down by the river.

The call

On Monday afternoon, police received a report that a man in his boxers was sitting on the Kennedy Bridge railing. Officers arrived but found no one on the bridge, which carries U.S. Highway 2 across the Red and links the Grand Cities.

They eventually discovered two intoxicated men on the Grand Forks bank who reported that they'd lost track of Boggs while swimming. Police said one man admitted to jumping off the bridge. It's not clear if Boggs also leapt from the bridge.

That afternoon and evening, emergency personnel in boats used poles and chains to search the vicinity where Boggs was last seen. A bloodhound sniffed the banks, finding no clues.

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On Tuesday, four boats -- two using sonar and two dragging the river bottom with chains -- combed the river from the Kennedy Bridge to the Riverside Dam.

Crews took a similar approach Wednesday, but they broadened their scope to include the area 100 feet south of the bridge and the area north of the dam, said Lt. Grant Schiller of the Grand Forks police.

'Big heart'

On Tuesday, before Boggs' body had been found, the Herald spoke with Mission residents who were startled by the news that an acquaintance they'd seen Monday morning was believed drowned.

"He was a real nice guy, you know -- big heart," Shannon Hopper, 38, said.

Hopper's husband, Martin, said Boggs worked with him for a while at Ryan Potato Co. in East Grand Forks.

Ray Hall, 37, worked there, too. He recalled how Boggs used to tease him.

"He used to mess with me all the time, used to call me Ray-Ray. He'd say, 'What's up, Ray-Ray?' and I'd say, 'What's up, Jerry?'"

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"I used to call him 'Jerry Boggs in the flesh,'" Hall said. "He'd look at me and go laughing."

Despite their bond, Hall said he didn't know much about Boggs' background.

"Only thing I know is Jerry was a good friend of mine," he said. "I just can't believe that something like that happened."

They said Boggs had been living at the Mission for a little more than three years. They said he worked hard at Ryan Potato but had an alcohol problem.

"You don't know when you're going to hit your bottom before you want to go get the help," Hopper said.

Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com .

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