Bloodhound aids search for Joshua at St. John’s

A bloodhound used earlier this month in the search for missing University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins has joined the effort to find missing St. John’s student Joshua Guimond.

On Sunday, Hoover, a seven-year-old bloodhound with a long record of success in previous search efforts, was brought to the St. John’s campus in hopes of finding clues to the Nov. 9 disappearance of Joshua.

But in a new twist to the ongoing investigation, the dog apparently also picked up a scent associated with Chris Jenkins on the St. John’s campus. And the path that Hoover followed for both Jenkins and Joshua appeared to lead to the St. John’s Abbey complex. Jenkins was last seen leaving a downtown Minneapolis party on Halloween night.

Penny Bell, Hoover’s owner and handler, began the day of searching at 3:30 a.m., accompanied by Steve Jenkins, the father of Chris, several of Chris’ friends, and a private investigator hired by the Jenkins family. Searching interstate exits between Eden Prairie, where the family formerly lived before moving to the Milwaukee area last year, and St. John’s, Hoover appeared to pick up the scent of Chris.

“Where this dog wants to go is in the residence,” Steve Jenkins said. “I can honestly tell you that if I didn’t think the cases were connected, I wouldn’t drive from Milwaukee all the way here.”

Joshua’s dad, Brian, joined the group at St. John’s and assisted in an effort to obtain permission for the dog to search the Abbey complex. But after a wait of several hours, the group of searchers was told that Abbot John Klassen could not be located to provide permission for a search of the Abbey. At that point, the search for Joshua began shortly after noon, with Bell taking Hoover to Joshua’s apartment and Brian Guimond providing articles of Joshua’s clothing to provide Hoover with a scent to follow.

Starting from the apartment complex where Joshua was last seen attending a party, Hoover followed the scent on a path that would have led Joshua back to his apartment on the other side of Stumpf Lake. The lake had received considerable attention of searchers in the days after Joshua’s disappearance, with a police dog appearing to track Joshua’s steps down to the lake, which was followed by diving and dragging operations and an attempt to lower the lake’s water level.

However, on Sunday, Hoover led searchers past the lake, and finally on to the Abbey.  Although the search team was not able to enter the Abbey on Sunday, appreciation was expressed by those involved for other assistance provided by St. John’s.

Greg Hoye, executive director of communications and marketing services for St. John’s said the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department actually has the final word on what may or may not be searched.

“Because there is an active investigation going on, all requests have to go through the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office,” Hoye said on Monday. “So whether the dog is brought back depends on any conversations the families may have with the Sheriff’s Department.”

Hoye said that St. John’s will continue to provide support and efforts have included permitting and aiding extensive searches of St. John’s grounds and buildings.

Throughout the day on Sunday, the number of people following Hoover at St. John’s increased considerably when news crews from KSTP-5, WCCO-4, KMSP-9 and the St. Cloud Times arrived to cover the latest step in the search for the missing Minnesota college students.

And Sunday’s tracking effort was a time-consuming process of allowing Hoover to work for short periods, then resting because of her age and the effects of cancer diagnosed five weeks ago that has caused the dog to undergo surgery to remove tumors.

Bell said man-tracking dogs like Hoover are very rare, but very effective. In Hoover’s first case in 1997, Bell said the dog set a world record by locating the body of a missing fisherman through 13 inches of ice and 42 feet of water.

But it isn’t just bodies that Hoover locates. Bell said that in March of 1999, during one of the largest manhunts in Wisconsin history, Hoover helped to locate a 27-year-old developmentally disabled man who had wandered away from his home. And those are just two of the highlights that Bell recounted from Hoover’s track record of success.

However, Bell said that dramatic discoveries are seldom the goal of a bloodhound’s search.  “What we don’t find is often as important as what we find,” Bell said. “If we don’t find blood, that’s a good thing.” She noted that equally important is to eliminate areas from the search and to set up a perimeter where evidence and tracking establishes the path of a missing person.

Steve Jenkins called Hoover, “the wonder dog,” and said such efforts by the families of the missing students have been made necessary by a lack of police cooperation. “We got zero help from the Minneapolis Police Department,” Jenkins said, noting that the family employed the services of a private investigator as soon as they found out about his son’s disappearance. “With missing persons, police don’t do anything for 72 hours, but in Minneapolis, it was more like seven days,” he said. “For a missing person, every hour is important.”