Despite search, St. Thomas student remains missing

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2009 - 12:11 PM

Sally Zamlen trudged relentlessly 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 house party after getting into a verbal dispute, 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, who lives nearby, drove toward the Mississippi River, pleading with Zamlen to look for her car 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 voicemail, indicating that its battery 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 when he disappeared. Britta Bloomquist, a friend from Virginia, Minn., said he may have been walking to the University of Minnesota to meet friends from the Iron Range.

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 bluffs from 3 a.m. into late afternoon. Police did not send anyone into the bluff area to conduct a search 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 armed with heat-detecting technology and a search by the St. Paul Fire Department yielded no clues. Police found footprints leading away from the river at St. Clair and Mississippi River Boulevard, but it's unclear if they were Zamlen's, Panos said.

Zamlen's parents, sister and friends drove to St. Paul from the Iron Range, arriving with optimism that he would be found. His mother carried a bottle of orange juice, noting that her son has diabetes and is likely suffering from low blood sugar, which makes him irritable, drowsy and confused.

"I just want to get to him," she 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 needs medical attention because he could be low on insulin supply or so disoriented by low blood sugar that he can't appropriately work the device.

Searchers broke up into groups: one group trekked along the bluffs upriver, another made fliers, another described Dan to drivers and runners, and after a nearby resident noted that people who drown in the river are typically found far downriver, his mother, roommate, friend and dog took off south of where Zamlen was last known to be.

"He's just a very good kid," said his roommate, Todd Gleason. "Well-rounded."

Friends and family members said Zamlen wants to study business law. He participated in several sports in high school in Virginia, where he also was editor of Generation W newspaper,, volunteered at his Catholic church and was an Eagle Scout. "He was a good role model," said his father, Dale Zamlen. "I should say, 'He is a good role model.' "

Gleason said it's unusual for Zamlen not to call if he isn't going to return to their dorm room in Brady Residence Hall. Friends said he wouldn't ignore their phone calls, even if he were mad.

"We looked in the culverts," his father said. "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."

Zamlen is 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds; he has blue eyes and dark blond hair. He was last seen wearing a blue jacket, blue jeans, a striped polo shirt and Doc Martin shoes. He was carrying a black Iphone and his green OmniPod.

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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