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DRU: Everyone's daughter

The man who found Dru Sjodin's body Saturday in a ravine one mile west of Crookston had searched for her several times and said it became like looking for his own daughter.

The man who found Dru Sjodin's body Saturday in a ravine one mile west of Crookston had searched for her several times and said it became like looking for his own daughter.

Dick Roue, 59, is a retired deputy for the Polk County Sheriff's Department, where he worked 22 years, after a year on the Northfield, Minn., police force. He lives in Fosston, Minn., and had taken part in several searches since Sjodin went missing Nov. 22.

"She was everyone's daughter, or sister, or granddaughter. You just got that feeling after a while," said Roue in his first interview since finding the UND student's body. "It could just as easily have been my daughter."

He and another man, who is a Crookston police reserve officer, were walking the steep ravine that feeds into the Red Lake River from the north.

Roue was walking north of the graveled Polk County Road 61, along the east edge of the ravine that drops about 40 feet down to a small stream. The other man, who asked not to be named, headed south of the county road. They were two of nearly 300 people who made the first large concerted search for Sjodin since mid-December.


The discovery

It was about 10:30 a.m., and Roue had walked about 70 yards from the county road, when he saw something on a little plateau, perhaps 30 feet below a steep dropoff from the lip of the grassy side of the ravine.

"I was up on top, and I just saw something black," Roue said. "I walked down to see what it was. It was her black coat, laying over her."

The veteran of law enforcement knew what he had found.

But it took him a moment to make sure what he was seeing.

"I stood there and let it sink in a little bit first. Even though that was what we were looking for, it was still a shock," Roue said. "It was kind of, 'Oh, my God.' I didn't go to pieces like a rookie, but I hope I never I never get so callused that things like that don't affect me. I've been in law enforcement for 23 years, but you never get used to it."

Roue said he did not want to comment on details of finding Sjodin's body because of the ongoing investigation. But his find changed a kidnapping case to a homicide case.

Tuesday, Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth released the preliminary autopsy information from the Ramsey County medical examiner. It said Dru Sjodin died of homicide.


No other information was made available, and the final and full autopsy report may take weeks to complete, Widseth said in a news release.

Widseth said he and Peter Welte, the Grand Forks County state's attorney, and federal prosecutors in St. Paul and Fargo are cooperating on the investigation and discussion of filing charges in connection with her homicide.

The day of abduction

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 51, a convicted sex offender from Crookston, remains in the Grand Forks jail awaiting trial in state district court on a charge of kidnapping Sjodin on Nov. 22 from a parking lot at Columbia Mall. Sjodin, 22, last was seen on a surveillance video from Marshall Field's store about 5 p.m. as she left the store, re-entering the mall, while talking on her cell phone.

Her boyfriend, Chris Lang, was on the other end of the call; his phone records show that at 5:04 p.m. the call ended, as Sjodin said something like, "OK, OK," and hung up abruptly, according to Lang.

Rodriguez told investigators he was in Columbia Mall at about that time, but has denied any involvement in Sjodin's abduction; he pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping charge at his arraignment.

At his preliminary hearing, investigators testified that blood matching Sjodin's DNA was found in Rodriguez's car, and a knife with blood on it was found in his trunk. A sheath that matches the knife was found in the Columbia Mall parking lot near Sjodin's car about 11 p.m. Nov. 22 when she didn't show up for work. Her cell phone made another call to Lang about three hours after she was abducted, but Lang only heard the sound of static and buttons being pushed. The phone's signal was logged at a cell phone tower near Crookston for 24 hours, until, investigators surmise, the battery died. It meant the cell phone was within a few miles of Crookston, investigators testified at the preliminary hearing last month in Grand Forks.

It has not been revealed if the cell phone was with Sjodin's body when it was found Saturday.


Roue wouldn't talk about what he saw at the scene. But he said he yelled at his partner, and then called Crookston Police Chief Tim Motherway, who was coordinating the land search Saturday. "I told him I had just found the girl," Roue said.

Sgt. Walt Keller of the Polk County Sheriff's Office was the first law enforcement officer to get to the scene, Roue said.

Area had been searched

Searchers had walked by the site several times in the five months since Sjodin disappeared.

Her father, Allan Sjodin, said that, just two weeks before, he and Denver private investigator Bob Heales had walked along the ravine on the very path Roue followed Saturday morning. But there still was enough snow along that grassy side of the ravine that faces the northwest to conceal the body.

"There could have been 5, 6 feet of snow there, because of the way it drops off over that edge," Roue said.

Roue had been out searching for Sjodin several times, including when it was "20 below wind chill," and on an ATV.

"I don't want any credit for finding her," he said. "It was the participation of hundreds of people, thousands, in various ways from day one."


He searched side by side with people from many states and Canada.

"They came from all over, they used horses, dogs, planes and boats and all kinds of people," Roue said. "It was really a team effort. I just happened to be the guy ..."

"Even people who told me, 'Well, we can't come over to search, but we will be praying. I tell you, there were people who were on their knees every day praying, and believe me, when you were out there, you could feel that."

He was amazed at the way law enforcement worked together, too.

"Jeez, you had 20 law enforcement agencies working together. I never have in my experience in law enforcement seen that many law enforcement agencies working together with that kind of cooperation."

And it was more than professional. It became personal, too, Roue said.

"After a while, it seemed like I was searching for my own daughter. Her family - I just couldn't believe it, they were an inspiration to all of us. We never had met before but we felt like we had known them forever."

Roue, who attends Calvary Free Lutheran Church in Fosston, said he leaned on his faith to cope with the tragedy.


"She was on our church prayer chain. ... Jesus said, 'All who are weak and heavy-laden, come on to me and I will give you rest.'"

After he was debriefed, Saturday, Roue went home to his wife and their daughter and son, both high schoolers.

"When I came home, the first thing I did was wrap my arms around my kids."

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