Weekend search yields no clues

The friends and family of missing St. John’s student Joshua Guimond are determined to leave no stone unturned in their effort to find the young man from Maple Lake.

On Saturday, two weeks to the day when 20-year-old Joshua disappeared on the St. John’s campus, a search party was organized to comb the woods around St. John’s. Behind the effort were Joshua’s father, Brian; and Brian’s brother, Paul Guimond; Joshua’s mother, Lisa Cheney; her brother, Paul Cheney; her boyfriend, Rick Smelser; and Joshua’s high school friends Jason Neu and Corey Paulson.

Getting the word out with one day’s notice was no easy task, but Joshua’s parents contacted Rev. Steven King, Dawn Nelson of Madigan’s and Heavenly Grounds Coffee Shop. With their help, search party recruitment was conducted through e-mails, flyers and word of mouth. Participants gathered at Holy Cross Lutheran Church at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning to form a procession of vehicles heading for the St. John’s campus west of St. Cloud on Interstate 94.

Lisa Cheney estimated that from 75 to 100 searchers, with the majority from Maple Lake, gathered despite cold winds to cover two tracts of woods close to St. John’s. The areas were targeted because of their location adjacent to the campus and walking paths that make the area fairly accessible. “The thought was that these might be places where someone might try to quickly dump something after the first search parties went through,” she said.

Although the search did not uncover any clues to Joshua’s disappearance, Maple Lake resident Sue Ditter discovered the most unusual find of the day when she noticed the tip of what seemed to be a sort of time capsule only moments into the day’s search. The cardboard shoebox was wrapped in layers of plastic garbage bags and duct tape. Its contents were just as strange, consisting of pictures, letters, a small amount of cash, a heavy chain necklace, a can of beer and a bottle of mustard.

Lisa said another odd find was a brand new pair of hip waders and new army boots near a lake behind the St. John’s Abby. Other things found, such as winter gloves and a hat were picked up, but Brian determined that none of them belonged to Joshua.

When the search ended at about 3:30 p.m., volunteers returned to Maple Lake and gathered at Holy Cross. “The ladies from the church had barbeques for everybody,” Lisa said. “That was so nice of them.”

And Maple Lake residents are actively seeking ways to reach out and help.  Terry Mooney said she and her husband, Phil, made the journey to offer support to Joshua’s parents.

“We have two sons and we can’t imagine anything more painful than having something like this happen where you don’t know where your child is,” she said. “We wanted to show Joshua’s parents that they have the support of their community.”

Bill and Sue Ditter felt the same way.  “We just wanted to do it and to help out Brian, Lisa and their family,” Bill said.  “You just feel helpless,” Sue said. “As another parent and person in the community, if there’s any small thing you can do, you just want to help.”

Other efforts to support the search include “Find Joshua” buttons that can be obtained at the Maple Lake Messenger. Buttons sold out quickly last week, but until more are delivered, those seeking buttons can reserve them at the Messenger. Or contributions 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, Security State Bank, P.O. Box 449 in Maple Lake.

That search fund may grow in importance as Joshua’s parents seek to find new ways to uncover clues or spread the word about their son’s disappearance. Lisa said she has a cousin in Waco, TX, who is a private investigator and has been offering the family some long distance guidance.   “We might have to hire somebody here,” Lisa said. “We’re just trying to think of everything we can do. It’s getting really frustrating.”

Some of that frustration comes from what Lisa considers a lack of communication from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department. “We feel there’s just not enough communication,” she said. “We’re saying to them that they need to call us every day.”  Lisa said they are also trying to get the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension involved in the search, which hasn’t been done since the Sheriff’s Department says it has no evidence that a crime has been committed. “We’re trying to find other avenues or go over their heads to see if we can get the BCA in there.”

Because of the disappearance of Joshua and three other young people in Minnesota within a two-week period, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been asked to provide assistance. Special Agent Paul McCabe of the Minneapolis Bureau of the FBI said information on three of the four cases has been sent to the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Washington, D.C. for analysis.

“There is nothing to suggest that these cases are linked,” McCabe said. “This is strictly a precautionary measure. The FBI is just providing support where needed.”

Information on 21-year-old Erika Dalquist of Brainerd was not included because law enforcement authorities believe the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are different than those of Joshua, University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins and University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire student Michael Noll. On Tuesday, Brainerd investigators said evidence has been collected leading them to believe Dalquist had been murdered and asked residents in and around Brainerd to search their property.

McCabe said the FBI has covered some out-of-state leads for some of the different law enforcement departments involved in the three college student cases since the FBI has offices and contacts all over the country. “We will support them in any way they need support,” McCabe said.

But Lt. Dave Nohner of the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department said there have been no new developments in the search for Joshua.  “We’re continuing interviews and we have gotten some leads from the public that we have followed up on,” he said. “But that’s about all that’s happening right now.”  Nohner said the Sheriff’s Department has received the St. John’s cap that was found just over a week ago by a deer hunter in Shakopee, but it wasn’t Joshua’s hat. “It looked like it had been there for quite a while,” Nohner said.

At St. John’s, Director of Communications Michael Hemmesch said the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department brought in a sonar unit on loan from Itasca County over this past weekend to once again search Stumpf and Gemini Lakes. Stumpf Lake has been the focus of considerable search efforts since a bridge over the lake would have been on Joshua’s path back to his apartment on Nov. 9, the night he disappeared and police dogs tracking Joshua’s sent led investigators to that lake. However, Lt. Nohner reported that the sonar search was unsuccessful.

Hemmesch said flyers with information about Joshua were distributed during St. John’s Division III first round football playoff game and the ongoing search has been noted as various other campus events. “It’s certainly been one of the prayers in all the church services on campus in the past two weeks,” Hemmesch said.

In addition, Hemmesch said some of Joshua’s friends and roommates have set up a display in the campus center where students can leave photos and other tributes or write comments.

Joshua’s friends have also established a website at findjoshua.org that offers information on his disappearance, flyers that can be downloaded and printed, and links to others sites dedicated to Joshua, St. John’s University, the Jacob Wetterling Foundation and the web site for missing University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins. There is also a link to the New York Times that leads to a story about Minnesota’s missing students.

Beneath the photo of Joshua at the findjoshua website is the following biblical quotation: Luke 15:4 – “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’”

Anyone with information is urged to call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department at 320-251-4240 or the Tri-County Crime Stoppers at 320-255-1301 or 800-255-1301. A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to finding Joshua Guimond.