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Search springs to action

All the snow has turned to water but the trees and earth remain dull gray, awaiting greening along the Red River where searchers looked again Tuesday for Dru Sjodin.

All the snow has turned to water but the trees and earth remain dull gray, awaiting greening along the Red River where searchers looked again Tuesday for Dru Sjodin.

The only find - poignant and pink - was a rusty button showing the face of the 22-year-old UND student who disappeared Nov. 22 after leaving a store in Columbia Mall.

When last heard from, she was talking on her cell phone to her boyfriend, Chris Lang, of the Twin Cities. Tuesday, Lang found the pink button, apparently dropped by searchers in November who first walked along the east side of the river here just north of the Thompson, N.D., bridge.

"I found it down there. It's been out here since then," Lang said, showing how it was one of the first buttons made by the friends and family of Sjodin in the days after she disappeared, made by hand, different in detail from the ones now manufactured and handed out by the thousands in the effort to keep her face and their loss before people.

There isn't any place anyone can think to search that already hasn't been searched once, twice or more, say the baker's dozen of searchers that also include Sjodin's father, Allan, cousins, uncles and Bob Heales, the Denver private investigator who has headed the many family searches.


"I'm not sure there's any theory," said Allan Sjodin, explaining why this site was chosen. Except it's roughly near a route that the man charged with abducting Dru Sjodin was known to use, driving between Grand Forks and his home in Crookston.

River search

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 51, has pleaded not guilty to the abduction charge in Grand Forks District Court and waits in jail for a trial expected to begin this summer. A convicted sex offender who has spent half his life incarcerated, Rodriguez told investigators he was in Columbia Mall about the time Sjodin last was seen Nov. 22, but denied any involvement in her disappearance. Investigators testified at his preliminary hearing that blood matching Sjodin's DNA was found in his car.

Although her cell phone gave off a signal for a day somewhere near Crookston, the only physical evidence gleaned by searchers is a black shoe identified as Sjodin's found Nov. 25 under the U.S. Highway 75 bridge over the Red Lake River on Crookston's west side.

Large-scale searches led by law enforcement ended in early December, but Sjodin's family and friends have continued looking, mostly near that Highway 75 bridge.

Tuesday's search along the Red River was the first time searchers have taken advantage of spring to return to this spot, and the advantage will be pressed all week, as law enforcement rejoins the search.

The geography of the search is governed by a simple rule, Heales explained to Adam Schultz, a UND student who dated Dru Sjodin for three years until a year ago.

"If you can't get somewhere, he can't get somewhere," Heales said, referring to places possible for Rodriguez.


The searchers got as far as Bygland Lutheran Church.

Helping out

The widespread interest in the search for Sjodin again was revealed Tuesday in the way Jeff Sahli, of Elk River, Minn., showed up, hauling his new Honda ATV in the back of his pickup truck to lend to Mike Sjodin, Dru's cousin, who muddied it well along the wooded Red.

Sahli never had met any of Sjodin's family or friends until now.

"Something's been bugging me at night, to come up and help," said Sahli, a glass installer in the construction trade who is recovering from back surgery. "I saw (the search plans) on the news the other night and decided to come up. I can't take the pounding of riding that thing around. And I've got a bum knee, so I can't walk. So, I'll just be a truck taxi, take these guys around."

Sahli said he doesn't believe in "psychics or that stuff."

"But something's been coming to me, something about farm machinery and grain bins," he said, suggesting that the hopper of a harvester left out over the winter might be a logical place to look.

That kind of help has been coming heavy, said Allan Sjodin, and such interest can be monitored on the Web site, www.finddru.com , administered by a family friend.


Today, Sahli will continue to help as the family search turns, likely, to south of the Thompson bridge toward Climax, Minn., Heales said.

On the North Dakota side of the Red River, the U.S. Border Patrol's only two cadaver-searching dogs, one in from Yuma, Ariz., will be working today, and continue for the next two weeks, said Maj. Mike Fonder of the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department.

On the Minnesota side, up to 250 volunteers will be sought for a mass search Saturday between Crookston and the Red River, said Sgt. Walt Keller of the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Sign-up will be at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Crookston High School, and volunteers should dress for a long day of walking across and through rough terrain, including wearing blaze orange or fluorescent green outerwear, Keller said.

Keller also is organizing what will be the first on-the-water search Saturday of the Red Lake River's 52-plus winding miles from Crookston to the Red River, a trip only 25 miles by highway. So far, 11 boats, including two or three search dog teams, will ply that route. A volunteer horseback posse also will search on Saturday.

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