St. Thomas student missing after abruptly leaving cell phone conversation

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2009 - 11:02 AM

A University of St. Thomas freshman was on his cell phone with a friend when he said, "Oh my gosh," then disappeared.

Dan Zamlen

Photo: School photo, University of St. Thomas

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Sally Zamlen trudged through the slick mud of St. Paul's Mississippi River bluffs Sunday afternoon, looking for her missing son among the jagged rock and leafless trees.

"Buddy, you gotta find Dan," she said to the family's black lab as her son's friends guided her along dangerously steep paths veined with gnarled roots. "Where is he?"

Dan Zamlen, a University of St. Thomas freshman, was reported missing Sunday by friends who spoke with him by cell phone at about 2:30 a.m. Zamlen, who turns 19 on Wednesday, told the friends he was walking on St. Clair Avenue toward Mississippi River Boulevard S. He had left a party after getting into an argument, said St. Paul police spokesman Pete Panos.

After leaving the party without telling his friends, Zamlen spoke via cell phone with friends Anna Chappuis and Sarah Nelson, fellow St. Thomas students who also had attended the party. Zamlen had been drinking, although he shouldn't because he has Type I diabetes, said friends and family members.

Nelson said Zamlen's tone concerned her, so she asked Chappuis to pick him up.

Chappuis said she pleaded with him: "Where are you going? Let's just go back to my house."

But Zamlen was still upset, and the conversation "took a really bad turn," Chappuis recalled Sunday as dozens of family members and friends mobilized to search for him.

Chappuis drove toward the Mississippi River, pleading with Zamlen to look for her headlights. "The last thing I heard was, 'Oh, my gosh, Anna, where are you? Help!'" Chappuis said.

Zamlen's voice grew distant as he said those last few words, as if he were moving away from his cell phone, she said. Then the phone cut out. Family members and friends said it rang unanswered for several hours afterward before going straight to voice mail, indicating that its battery likely was dead.

Friends refused to reveal what upset the Eveleth, Minn., native, but said it was not an extraordinary disagreement.

It's unclear where he was going. Britta Bloomquist, a friend from Virginia, Minn., said he may have been walking to the University of Minnesota to meet friends.

By noon Sunday, news of his disappearance had been text-messaged and e-mailed to St. Thomas students, faculty and staff via the university's emergency notification system.

Against police recommendations, friends and family members searched the steep bluffs. Police did not send anyone into the area until about 4:30 p.m. Panos said Zamlen is a grown man whose lack of contact doesn't rise to the level of concern as a missing child.

Foot searches, aerial sweeps of the river by a helicopter with heat-detecting technology and a search by the St. Paul Fire Department yielded no clues.

Zamlen's parents, sister and friends drove to St. Paul from the Iron Range.

"I just want to get to him," his mother said. "He needs to be warm and dry and safe."

"He's my big brother and I want him to come home," said his 17-year-old sister, Andrea, as she burst into tears.

Family members are concerned that although Zamlen is attached to an OmniPod that injects insulin, he could be low on insulin supply or disoriented by low blood sugar.

"He's just a very good kid," said his roommate, Todd Gleason. Gleason said it's unusual for Zamlen not to call if he isn't going to return to their dorm room. Friends said he wouldn't ignore their phone calls, even if he were mad.

"We looked in the culverts," said his father, Dale Zamlen. "We looked in the trees. I hope he's in the community, in someone's home. I don't really believe he's in the river."

Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or the university's Public Safety Department at 651-962-5555.

Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391

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