Missing without a trace

It looked like a military invasion was about to take place at St. John’s University on Nov. 13. A line of camouflaged Humvees took off in a slow procession, helicopters roared above nearly unseen through thick, gray clouds and uniformed police and military personnel were everywhere. But the ominous miliary presence had only one goal. . .     To bring a young man home.

St. John’s junior Joshua Guimond of Maple Lake has not been seen since he disappeared late in the evening on Saturday, Nov. 9, after leaving a party across the campus from his apartment in St. Maur House.

Lt. Dave Nohner of the Stearn’s County Sheriff’s Department said the search effort began late on Sunday, Nov. 10, after Joshua did not show up for a mock trial team practice.

“We searched what we could in the dark,” he said. “Our resources were activated at 7 a.m. on Monday and we conducted a search of the campus and its buildings, going basically room to room, including the power plant, the doors and all the wooded areas.”  Nohner said that up to 50 Stearns County officers were involved, including mounted and water rescue units.

After two days of searching could find no trace of Joshua, the Minnesota National Guard was called in for assistance on Nov. 13, providing 118 troops and equipment from the 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, units from Brainerd, Sauk Center, and St. Cloud; the 34th Military Police Company out of Rosemount; and the 2nd Battalion, 147th General Support Aviation from St. Paul.

Working in areas that fanned out from the campus, the coordinated effort of National Guard, St. John’s personnel, police and volunteers was methodically searching over 16 square miles surrounding the campus which also included the swamps and woods in the neighboring 2,500-acre St. John’s Wildlife Management Area. Operating from a command post set up in a field outside of the campus, searchers were transported throughout the targeted area and brought back for food and refreshments provided by the St. John’s food service.

On Nov. 13, the decision was made to lower the water level of Stumpf Lake, the snake-like body of water located on the route Joshua would have taken back to his apartment. A search dog picking up Joshua’s scent led police to the water, but searching and dragging the lake turned up nothing. A request to completely drain the lake is currently awaiting DNR approval.

Nohner said that while conducting the extensive search in and around St. John’s, the Sheriff’s Department was getting information on the disappearance of three other young adults in the past three weeks. Also missing are University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire student Michael Noll and 21-year-old Erika Dalquist of Brainerd.

“We’re looking into that possibility, but at this point, it doesn’t appear the cases are linked,” he said. “But it’s something we have to keep in mind. At this point, we need to keep all avenues open.”

With no success in the ground search, Nohner said the next step was to interview family, friends, and other students looking for any kind of lead that could explain Joshua’s disappearance.

“It might help to determine whether he took off, which doesn’t seem likely,” Nohner said. “Then there is the possibility that we may have missed him in the search. That’s what makes this so frustrating.”

And no one feels the frustration more than Joshua’s friends and family.  At the search site, Joshua’s parents, Brian Guimond and Lisa Cheney, and Joshua’s long-time Maple Lake girlfriend, Katie Benson, were receiving the support of St. John’s students and Maple Lake friends and neighbors while they tried to make sense of a mystery as yet without answers.

“Bad things bring out the good in people,” Brian said of the comfort and support he has received during the past week.

Also on hand was Patty Wetterling, the driving force behind the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, named after her oldest son who was abducted 13 years ago.

Wetterling offered words of comfort while providing ideas and guidance in getting the word out about Joshua’s disappearance, which she said needs to reach people who might have information to share.

“I believe in the power of all those prayers,” she said. “And there’s something we can do by printing flyers to get the word out. Tell kids to send a letter to a special grandma or someone who is outside the area and have them post a flyer.”  She also asked kids to play it safe.

“The buddy system really does work,” she said. “Even when you’re in college. Go out into the world, hold hands and stick together.”

And she said the most important thing is to have hope.

“There is no reason to give up hope,” she said. “Joshua is not physically here, so where is he?  “I haven’t given up hope and it’s been 13 years. I pray to God that Joshua’s parents don’t go through that. But there have been times when someone just needed a break or someone just offered a ride. We hope that’s what happened here.”

To provide funding to continue the search, Joshua’s friends are making and selling buttons that say, “Keep Hope Alive and Find Joshua.” Buttons can be purchased for a suggested donation of $2 and can be obtained at the Messenger office. Or donations can be made directly to an account set up at Security State Bank. Donations to the Find Josh Fund can be deposited at the bank or mailed to the attention of Cheryl Pullins at P.O. Box 449 in Maple Lake. In addition, a website to distribute information on the search effort will soon be in operation at www.findjoshua.org.

Joshua’s parents are working hard to spread the word about their son’s disappearance and perhaps reach someone with information to share. On Monday of this week, both Lisa Cheney and Brian Guimond appeared on the CBS Morning Show in a broadcast from St. John’s. On Tuesday, the pair was in New York for an appearance on Good Morning America with the family of missing UofM student Chris Jenkins. And the national broadcasts are in addition to many Minnesota TV and radio news shows.     “We’ve been trying to get all the media attention we can,” Lisa said. “I just keep focusing on the fact that we need to get the word out and I try not to think about anything else.”

Brian also attended a meeting and press conference for the families of the missing students at the State Capitol on Nov. 14 and found the session helpful. “It seemed like they were similar to Joshua and we’re going to keep in touch,” he said. That connection has already been put to use, with the Jenkins family telling Brian about a St. John’s hat similar to one owned by Joshua that was found by a deer hunter in Shakopee on Saturday. On Monday, Lt. Nohner said none of the people interviewed about Joshua’s disappearance said that he was wearing a hat. “But we’re still going to check it out,” Nohner said.

On the evening of Nov. 13, a prayer service was held at the Guimond’s church, Holy Cross Lutheran in Maple Lake, following a prayer service at St. John’s on Nov. 11.  As they gathered at Holy Cross, Brian Guimond, Katie Benson and Greg Worden, a St. John’s junior who was with Joshua on the night he disappeared, talked about the Joshua they know and love.

Katie said that it was easy to be attracted to Joshua during their sophomore year in high school. “It was his attitude toward everything,” she said. “He was just so confident and charming.”

She last saw Joshua at a biology class that also included Greg. And such togetherness was not unusual.  “Your friends have to be your family in college,” Greg said. “Josh was a part of that, if not the leader.”

And his impact on others has been enormous.  “There’s not one part of my life that Josh didn’t change,” Katie said.  “He got me through a lot of classes my first year,” said Greg. “And there’s a lot of people at school that feel the same way.”

Leadership is a strong Guimond characteristic, one that Joshua was planning to take into a future elective office. And he could be forceful with his opinions.  “Everything was a debate with him,” Katie laughed. “You never wanted to be on the wrong side of a debate with him. But even if you did get mad at him, you couldn’t stay mad for more than five minutes.”  Brian said his son has been a constant source of pride, through all his accomplishments in high school and college.  “I’ll never forget the speech he gave at the (MLHS) graduation,” he said. “I have that on tape.”

In that speech, Joshua, as the senior class president, talked of the significance of the Class of 2000, a subject he also addressed in the MLHS Graduation Issue published by the Messenger. “It seemed to me that more emphasis in regards to preparation for success was put on our class,” Joshua said. “We were placed a cut above the rest and we surely will not disappoint anyone after high school and into our lives.”

Joshua was never a disappointment to his friends and family and all Brian wants is for his son to walk in the door.

“We love you and we miss you. What more can we say?” Brian said.  “I don’t have a girlfriend. No wife. All I have is Joshua.”