Divers explore St. John’s lake in search for Joshua Guimond

Divers were brought in to search the waters of Sagatagan Lake at St. John’s on Saturday as the disappearance of three missing college students once again made headlines across the state.

Last fall, University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins, St. John’s student Joshua Guimond and University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire student Michael Noll all disappeared without a trace after leaving late night parties.

On Feb. 27, the body of Jenkins, who vanished on Halloween night, was retrieved from the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis after it was spotted by pedestrians on a bridge near St. Anthony Falls.

The Jenkins and Guimond families had been working together to find their sons and a bloodhound used in the two cases appeared to find a scent associated with Chris Jenkins on the St. John’s campus during a late December search effort.

Erika Dalquist of Brainerd, who also disappeared during the same two-week period as the three college students, has been the subject of intensive searches in the Virginia Mine Pit Lake after a suspect told police he had put her body in the lake. Prosecutors dropped a manslaughter charge against the suspect because no body could be found. Investigators in that case plan to wait until the ice is off the lake so sonar equipment can be used.

And the body of Chad Sharon, a missing student at the University of Notre Dame who disappeared in early December under similar circumstances as the three Minnesota college students, was recovered in February from the St. Joseph River near South Bend, Indiana. Police reported no sign of a struggle or foul play, but said there was no way to determine how long Sharon’s body had been in the river. However, tests showed a blood alcohol level of .224, more than twice the .08 legal definition of intoxication.

In a televised press conference conducted over the weekend, Chris Jenkins’ parents commented on research conducted by a private investigator and said they believe their son’s death was not a suicide or an accident, but the result of foul play.

On Saturday, the search resumed for Joshua, with a private diving crew paid through the“Find Joshua” funds, conducting an underwater search of two areas of Sagatagan Lake according to perimeters set by a bloodhound a week earlier.

Volunteers providing assistance included Maple Lake firefighters Todd Borell, Kip Blizil, Bill Blizil and Jeff Lorentz. In addition, Jim Noll, uncle of missing college student Michael Noll, was present to assist the diving team, which has also conducted underwater searches for Michael near his University of Wisconsin– Eau Claire campus.

Coordinating the diving crew was Steve Halin, who has served as an instructor in ice and water rescue training for the Maple Lake Fire Department.

In Saturday’s effort at St. John’s, one search area was just off a dock at the north end of the lake in about 15 feet of water and the other was toward the center of the lake in about 35 feet of water. No clues to Joshua’s disappearance were found in the search, with an estimated six feet of silt on the lake’s bottom hampering visibility.

Also at the scene on Saturday was Penny Bell, owner of Hoover, the bloodhound that has been at St. John’s several times over the winter tracking Joshua’s scent across campus where he left a party on November 9, to a lake at the south end of the St. John’s campus.

In the initial search by Hoover at the end of December, the dog appeared to pick up a scent associated with Chris Jenkins at St. John’s. Bell said on Saturday that Hoover’s reaction to Jenkins’ scent was not similar to that of Joshua’s. “It wasn’t footprint to footprint, like Joshua’s,” Bell said. “It was a faint, residual acknowledgement of Chris.”

Bell said that scent could have been transported to St. John’s through someone who met Chris or through an article of his clothing. “I never said that Chris was here,” she said. “In fact, I am convinced that he was never here. But his scent was here.”

The searchers had also planned to have Hoover search an area and two small boathouses close to the lake. Brian Guimond said they had notified St. John’s and the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department of their intentions as per a prior agreement. But a deputy on the scene told the group that search warrants would be required.  Sheriff’s Department Captain Pam Jensen said her department was notified that diving was to be conducted, but were not told that searches of the buildings would be requested. “It was a question of timing,” she said. “We didn’t realize buildings would be searched. On this particular day, the Sheriff’s Department didn’t deem it necessary to go into those buildings. They’ve already gone through those buildings before.”

However, Brian Guimond said he doesn’t believe the boat houses had been searched previously and said the deputy they encountered on Saturday called into question Hoover’s lack of credentials and cited that as a reason why a search warrant would now be required.

Bell said certification is no indication of a particular bloodhound’s abilities.  “Hoover is a man-trailing bloodhound,” she said. “She comes with a natural inclination to do her job. All she learns from training is the ritual of procedure. Why should I as a human be judging her ability to do her job?  “I’d rather go out and help a family than say ‘It can’t be done.’”