Guessing ends about missing cadet's fate

  • Article by: HER, OACUTE;N M and AACUTE;RQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2007 - 11:53 PM

A body found Monday in Goose Lake is identified as Nick Rossini. Officials say he drowned in "a tragic accident."

Nick Rossini

Nick Rossini disappeared in December. Ramsey County officials hoped to make a positive ID by Tuesday.

From the moment that West Point cadet Nick Rossini disappeared before Christmas, friends and relatives hoped he had run off because of recent legal troubles or perhaps had bumped his head and suffered memory loss.

On Tuesday, White Bear Lake police offered a simpler explanation: They believe Rossini, 21, went out for an early morning run on Dec. 17 and fell through the ice on Goose Lake, where his body was recovered Monday afternoon.

The Ramsey County medical examiner identified Rossini through dental records Tuesday and listed the official cause of death as drowning, White Bear Lake Police Chief Lynne Bankes said at a news conference.

"There's absolutely nothing to indicate that Nick took his own life," Bankes said. "There was no trauma to the body nor any reason to believe this was anything but a tragic accident."

Although it took dental records to identify the body, police said Tuesday that there were early indications that the body might be Rossini's.

The body was found in sweat pants, a sweat shirt and jogging shoes. Bankes said that Rossini also was wearing an undershirt from St. John's University, the school he attended before transferring to West Point.

The recovery of Rossini's body ended months of searching and speculation as to what happened to the first-year cadet, who was declared AWOL from West Point when he did not return to school.

Rossini came home on Dec. 14 from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., for winter break. The following night, he went out with friends and crashed his mother's car into a parked car in Minneapolis. He drove off but was later arrested and cited in Crystal on suspicion of driving under the influence.

He was released the next day and went to bed at the family home about 10:30 p.m., the last time that his parents and sisters saw him.

Initially, Rossini's parents thought he went for a run because he took no coat or wallet. But as the days and weeks dragged on, relatives and police wondered whether he had fled because of the trouble he might be in with police and West Point. They also wondered whether Rossini had been abducted or lost his memory.

Bankes said those theories have been pretty much put to rest. She said it is still unclear why Rossini ended up in Goose Lake, whether he inadvertently veered off the running path or tried to cut across the ice while jogging.

Bankes said the medical examiner's office has told her department that toxicology test results won't be available for at least two weeks.

West Point spokesman Frank DeMaro said Tuesday that Rossini's status will be changed from AWOL to deceased. "Nick was a cadet in good standing with an exemplary record and will be missed," West Point officials said in a statement.

Early indications

The badly decomposed body was recovered Monday afternoon by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office water patrol unit, which had resumed looking for Rossini's body about two weeks ago when the weather improved.

Deputies had already searched White Bear Lake, Birch Lake and Bald Eagle Lake this month before beginning a search on Monday of Goose Lake, in the city of White Bear Lake.

The body was found in shallow water in a remote area of Goose Lake just west of Hwy. 61 and Hoffman Road, about 3 miles from the family's home.

Rossini's parents and siblings declined to comment Tuesday. But his aunt Jeanne Rossini-McKenzie read a statement in which the family thanked everyone for all the "prayers and support during these difficult times." She said the family also thanked White Bear Lake police for "an efficient and compassionate investigation."

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