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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Dru Sjodin Found

Aired April 17, 2004 - 13:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. It's a busy news day here, in addition to continuing to watch for details about a car explosion involving a Hamas leader who has been sent to hospital Gaza City, another breaking story we're following for you in this country.
After a five-month search, 22-year-old Dru Sjodin apparently has been found. Associated Press reporter Dave Kolpack recently spoke with the Polk County sheriff, Mark LeTexier, to give us a little bit more detail about the circumstances of the find of Dru Sjodin.

And Dave, if you're on the phone with us, OK, you can hear me all right, what does this mean? What exactly did the police share -- the Polk County sheriff tell you?

DAVE KOLPACK, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: Well, they haven't said much. They had a search today here, an organized search of about 100 people. Several of them were gathering for lunch at Crookston High School. A tearful Sheriff (UNINTELLIGIBLE) came in and told people the search was over.

He said, "Dru is home." They have scheduled a 3:00 p.m. Central news conference to give more details.

WHITFIELD: What did he mean, "Dru is home"? And the tearful explanation of Dru as being home. What's the interpretation of what that means?

KOLPACK: Well, she's believed to be dead. The family members right now are gathered in a trailer in an emergency center outside of the Crookston (ph) High School, and there are a lot of tears there as well.

WHITFIELD: The last time anyone heard from Dru Sjodin, she was on the telephone, on a cell phone, talking to her boyfriend, Chris Lang. That was November 22, and then he just heard her say, "Oh, my god." And then the phone went dead.

Kind of back track for us and give us some details about what has happened since then.

KOLPACK: Well, back then they went through several organized searches, hundreds of people turned out for two or three searches before the weather turned bad. It became more difficult once winter hit in Minnesota. So there were no organized searches since December. They have been planning this search today for months and months. And before the searchers went out today Alan Sjodin, Dru's father, said he believed that today would be the day because conditions were right.

WHITFIELD: And after the search had kind of waned involving some of the police authorities, the friends and family members were determined to conduct their own kind of search. Describe for me how it involved so many communities and the resources they used to try to keep, you know, the search alive.

KOLPACK: The last search in December, both in Minnesota and North Dakota called out the National Guard. So the states basically spared no expense on the search. Both Alan Sjodin, Chris Lang, Dru's boyfriend, and a family friend, Bob Silas (ph), a private investigator, they have basically been searching most of the winter.

Alan Sjodin had said back -- basically in November he wasn't going to leave here without his daughter.

WHITFIELD: And consequently, even in the midst of all the searching on December 1, a man, a registered sex offender, Alfonzo Rodriguez, Jr., was actually arrested and charged with abducting her. Why is it that police felt they had enough evidence to actually charge him with the abduction of Dru Sjodin -- even though she was still missing?

KOLPACK: They found physical evidence, both in his car and in the garage of his mother's home in Crookston, where he had been living. So they felt they had enough evidence -- the blood type matching Dru's DNA was found in that car, as well as the sheath belonging to a knife and several other clues that they thought they had enough evidence to arrest him. It is my understanding now that the U.S. attorney from North Dakota was heading to Grand Forks later this afternoon. So there may be federal charges awaiting him as well.

WHITFIELD: And he is still being held on $5 million bond. And no trial date has been set on that. But as you say, there is still potentially other evidence that may direct some other charges or something else on that case.

Now, you mentioned you spoke with the sheriff on the telephone. He was very tearful as he was trying to describe that Dru is home. What else did he say?

KOLPACK: Oh, not much. I mean, he said that police were still gathering information. They were hoping to have more details at 3 o'clock. It was very tough for him. He had a hard time keeping his composure and it has been very difficult on him as well.

WHITFIELD: You felt by hearing him on the phone that this has become very personal. He's been involved, all the resources that his sheriff's department has been involved. It sounds as though he's reacting Dru Sjodin is one of his family members.

KOLPECK: That's correct. I mean, it has become personal to people in two states here. This morning I talked to a searcher (AUDIO GAP) Northern Minnesota, he (AUDIO GAP) he said 150 miles. He said he was itching to do something all winter and he felt it was the right thing to do. So this was something that is has drawn the attention two of states and basically just engulfed everyone's attention for five months.

WHITFIELD: We know even as recently as, you know, early April, that friends and family members were conducting their own search, a loose search. What do we know about the kind of resources that were being used on the law enforcement level to keep this search ongoing? And was there a particular targeted area that it seemed most of the resources have been concentrating on lately?

KOLPACK: Yeah, lately it has been right here in Polk County. She was abducted in Grand Forks, North Dakota, right on the North Dakota- Minnesota line. First county east of Minnesota is Polk County. So that's where they've been concentrating most of the searches on.

As far as the resources go, the state has said they would be willing to help. They haven't been real specific on what they're going to do. But the sheriff's department has put in a lot of overtime on this case. And Sheriff -- when I talked to him earlier this morning said that he wasn't concerned about that he wanted to find Dru. And they have.

WHITFIELD: And you had mentioned -- you had mentioned Grand Forks being close to the Minnesota line, which also explains why just as recently that is past February bloodhounds used in this search had picked up a scent or at least officials believed the bloodhound was able to pick up a scent near a city owned storage shed. What is the proximity of that location to where Dru Sjodin may have been located most recently?

KOLPACK: Today they had basically targeted seven areas that they were sending searchers to. I know there was a lot of action this morning around that area that you refer to, where the dog had picked up a scent. Seemed like -- that was probably the area they were concentrating on. But I'm not sure exactly where she was found. I know law enforcement authorities were very interested in that part of the city.

WHITFIELD: We're looking some file tape, showing some of the people involved, and the bloodhounds used in this search. And people had gone as far as they were wearing buttons, they had their license plates -- you know, that they were driving around with, "Find Dru".

Describe for me how involved the community had become along this Minnesota and North Dakota state lines in the search for her.

KOLPACK: Dru was a student at the University of North Dakota. So there was a lot of support gathered at the University of North Dakota, even today as I drove through North Dakota, on Dru's fraternity house, there was a sign that said Dru, you know, we're looking for you. And there were still signs hanging from fraternity houses saying that, you know, showing their support. Yes, it is something that everybody has been involved with. The searchers today came from all over North Dakota and Minnesota. And something even though happened five months ago, there it was still on everybody's mind.

WHITFIELD: You've been covering this case for a long time. When you had spoke within other law enforcement investigators, including the sheriff for Polk County, what did those conversations -- what were those conversations like? And why did you know today something was different?

KOLPACK: Well, probably because of the conditions. I think most law enforcement officials were kind of targeting river areas. There are two major rivers in this area. One is the Red Lake River between Crookston and Grand Forks. The other is the Red River of the North located on the North Dakota-Minnesota border.

I think they figured once the ice went out on those rivers, that would be their best shot. And the weather was good today and they figured with the searchers helping, -- they also had dogs from the U.S. Border Patrol helping today. And they had several boats on the Red Lake River. And I think that's where they thought they could -- they would find her.

WHITFIELD: Can you give us a sense as to what is being described for you, beyond the many more law enforcement personnel at the Red Lake area?

KOLPACK: Well, right now they're -- they're tight lipped. They're all gathered together. And they're not saying much at all. Unfortunately, too, they have returned from their searching and are very grim faced and very stoic about what is going on.

WHITFIELD: Did you get a sense, Dave, that even though five months now have elapsed as you were talking to law enforcement, investigators, did you ever get a sense from them that there was a feeling that perhaps by chance they just might find her alive? Or had they always been fairly grim because of some evidence that had been located that perhaps she wouldn't be?

KOLPACK: I think after a couple of months had gone by, and, you know, the winter has really set in here, and temperatures plummeted to 30, 40 below zero, they had lost a lot of hope. I think everybody was resigned to the fact that they were looking for a body here, today.

And but they were optimistic they would find something. They were really -- they felt that, you know, once spring hit, that they were going to be able to find her.

WHITFIELD: You mentioned the Red Lake area is now where they're focusing on. You hear lake it conjures up images of weekend homes, of vacation areas, perhaps even an area where hunters frequent. Is that what this area is like?

KOLPACK: For the most part. A lot is flat farmland. But the Red Lake River area is cut in between there and there are a lot of wooded areas. A little bit of rough territory. Just around the river area. And that's why they kind of concentrated on those areas. Those areas were very difficult to search in the wintertime especially.

WHITFIELD: So a rough area meaning not a lot of roads, mostly trails, things like that?

KOLPACK: Correct. Mostly trails (AUDIO GAP). Kind of -- heavy grass area and just places where they were very difficult to walk through, especially during the wintertime.

WHITFIELD: OK, and now, Dave, what about your location. What is your proximity to this Red Lake area. How close are you able to get given you know many law enforcement agents, they're used to seeing you since you covered this case a long time.

KOLPACK: The Red Lake River flows right through downtown Crookston, for the most part. What they're doing today is they start two of the boats on the Red Lake River from Crookston heading west to North Dakota, and then another two boats run the river at East Grand Forks, Minnesota, heading east

So, yes, the area is very close to where I am right now.

WHITFIELD: So one more time, if folks are now just joining us. Dave Kolpack has had a personal conversation and very revealing conversation with Polk County Sheriff Mark Le Texiera (ph), out of Minnesota, near Crookston.

And in that conversation, a very tearful Sheriff LeTexiera (ph) was able to say, "Dru is home". And, Dave, you were able to discern that the point it meant that 22-year-old Dru Sjodin, who has been missing now since November 22 that her body has been found and that unfortunately it does not look like she has been found alive.

KOLPACK: That is my understanding, correct.

WHITFIELD: You're in the Red Lake area or the search now is focusing in the Red Lake area. That's just outside of Crookston, Minnesota. And, Dave, you're describing this as a location frequented by weekenders. I guess, some cabins there, weekend homes, hunters sometimes frequent there as well. Now this area has been cordoned off. There is no traffic except for law enforcement officials, correct?

KOLPACK: Yes. I believe so. Where the bodies are found, correct, yes.

WHITFIELD: Are there any other details that the sheriff is willing to give you about the -- the condition of the body or in any sense any kind of evidence they're finding in that location where the body was found?

KOLPACK: No details that the point. They've scheduled a 3 o'clock press conference to discuss those details.

WHITFIELD: When I ask about the condition, really in that -- does it appear as though they can tell, you know at this juncture if indeed, you know, how long she may have been dead?

KOLPACK: Right, right. We have no other details that the point.

WHITFIELD: OK. Dave Kolpack, Associated Press reporter, thank you very much for joining us with those details. I hear that the battery on your cell phone is about to die there. So, thanks for hanging with us for so long.

Twenty-two-year-old Dru Sjodin, according to a conversation that Dave Kolpack, an AP reporter, was able to have the Polk County Sheriff Mark LeTexier (ph), out of Minnesota, out of Crookston, Minnesota, apparently Dru Sjodin has been found. The body of Dru Sjodin has been found.

She's the University of North Dakota student who had been missing since November 22. The last contact he had had made was with her boyfriend, Chris Lang. They were talking on a cell phone. She was leaving work. After having shopped in a mall apparently, all Chris Lang then suddenly heard was, "Oh, my god." And then the phone went dead.

Since that time, for over five months now, an entire community has exhaustively been looking for any kind of clue, looking for Dru Sjodin, as have the law enforcement agencies in that area. A search that ended up crossing state lines from North Dakota into Minnesota.

And now, according to Dave Kolpack, with the Associated Press, is hearing from the sheriff that they have been concentrating their efforts in Crookston, Minnesota, an area they have surrounded, an area known for camping and hunting as well. It is the Red Lake area and it is believed that Dru Sjodin's body has been found in that location.

And now they're looking for any other evidence and sanitizing the area to make sure they can get all the details possible. There is a 3 o'clock, local time, Central Time in Minnesota and Grand Forks area, a press conference expected. And, of course, CNN will be covering that live at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time to find out any more details about the case of Dru Sjodin, 22-years old, of the University of North Dakota, missing since November of last year.

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