Dan Zamlen's father and friends vowed to keep looking for the missing college student, as police focused their search on a stretch of the river near the St. Thomas campus.
Dale Zamlen walked alone Thursday above the stretch of Mississippi riverbank where his diabetic son Dan vanished early Sunday, after the 18-year-old University of St. Thomas student drank at a party and then left upset about something.
Hundreds of gung-ho searchers who crashed through brush this week calling Dan's name have fanned farther out, imploring residents to check their property, distributing fliers, figuratively turning every stone.
If he's alive, he turned 19 Wednesday. The father, fatigue in his voice, says he has to believe his son had that birthday.
"I'm never gonna speak about him in the past tense," Zamlen said.
But below the river bluff, a police motorboat whirred, evidence of where authorities are focusing their search. A police dog was in the boat, sniffing the air.
Signaling their doubts that this story can still have a happy ending, St. Paul Police Spokesman Peter Panos said Thursday was the last day of active searching by police.
"That doesn't mean the school's going to stop the neighborhood search," Panos said. "But we're at the point where we've looked everywhere we can."
The last person known to have talked to the missing man said this week that he called from his cell phone, saying he was on St. Clair Avenue near Mississippi River Boulevard South. She said he was upset and called out for help before the phone went dead.
But police expressed doubts about the alleged call for help.
"We found nothing to support what she thought she heard on the phone," Panos said. He added that investigators "have nothing to suggest" foul play.
Health a concern
Absent signs of foul play, police often wait to begin searching for an adult, because so many turn up on their own.
But Panos said they began searching for Zamlen at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday because of his Type I diabetes, the cold weather and because he had been drinking. Zamlen's insulin pump would run only so long. Family members say that means that he could now be in a coma.
"It's situationally based on what we do," Panos said. "In this case the situation because of his health dictated what we did."
Many of the searchers have had the same stubborn optimism of the missing man's father.
"It's all about Dan and all about Dan's family," said Craig Skalko, a University of Minnesota-Duluth freshman who graduated from high school with Zamlen and who has been in St. Paul since Monday helping to coordinate the large effort.
"We're tired, but our hearts are good," he said. "We're still going as much as we can."
The sidewalk at the summit of the steep riverbank rises at least 70 feet from the river's edge, but brush and trees likely would block someone from falling all the way to the water. It's unknown whether Zamlen ventured close to the water before losing phone contact.
Dale Zamlen said Dan often ran along the river, where its banks likely reminded him of the steep mining terrain back home. He said he is not ruling out that someone tried to harm his son.
"You've got to look at everything," he said. "I don't think the students who come here know what goes on in this city. There are kids that are naive."
Not leaving without him
In a command center at the student union at St. Thomas, a large St. Paul map was marked to showed the neighborhoods where volunteers have been, passing out an estimated 20,000 fliers with Zamlen's photo and description.
Across the room was an extensive list of hospitals, shelters and detox centers to check.
In a room nearby, friends from the Iron Range and a volunteer's therapy dog comforted Zamlen's family.
Coordinators instructed volunteers in their next moves, and then buses took them to new neighborhoods to continue leafletting.
Volunteers Benji Neff and Emily Davis were a year behind Dan Zamlen in school. Neff and Zamlen are both Eagle Scouts, something that gives Neff hope.
"Just the fact that we haven't turned up anything in our searches, to me says he's out there," he said.
As Easter approaches, Zamlen's parents and sister say they're not going anywhere.
"I'm not leaving until I find Dan." Dale Zamlen said. "This area will be my new home until I find him."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921