Missing St. Thomas student found in river

  • Article by: CURT BROWN and LORA PABST , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: May 2, 2009 - 7:18 AM

The body of Dan Zamlen, who disappeared on a walk home from a party April 5, was found downriver near the Ford plant.

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Britta Bloomquist (with glasses) and other mourners hugged each other after a memorial service for Dan Zamlen at St. John Vianney Seminary chapel at the University of St. Thomas.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Nearly four weeks of searching and hoping came to an end Friday when a body found near the Ford Motor Co. plant was identified as University of St. Thomas freshman Dan Zamlen.

"There's enormous sadness," said St. Thomas spokesman Doug Hennes. "It's been 27 days since he disappeared and people kept holding out hope that perhaps they might find him or he took off or something. But as time went on, people feared for the worst, so today does bring some closure."

Zamlen's parents, Dale and Sally Zamlen, of Eveleth, Minn., have been living in the St. Thomas faculty residence since their only son vanished April 5. Buses of their friends and neighbors from the Iron Range joined an estimated 1,200 students who repeatedly scoured several square miles of Mississippi River bluffs looking for Dan Zamlen, who would have turned 19 on April 9.

St. Paul Police spokesman Pete Panos said he believes Zamlen fell down the bluff and into the river, although an official cause of death is not expected from the medical examiner's office for four or five days.

Panos said Ford workers found the body while cleaning grates that catch debris in the river near the power plant.

"You hate this to be the end," Panos said. "But if this was always going to be the end, then this actually probably is a good thing. At least the family can go ahead and get through their grieving process and it gives them some closure so they can deal with something more solid than always wondering what happened or where he was."

Dozens of students and several relatives streamed in to St. John Vianney Seminary Chapel on the campus for a prayer service and songs Friday evening. A small bouquet of flowers and two portraits of Zamlen were displayed on a table inside the chapel.

Britta Bloomquist, a high school friend who helped organize the Iron Rangers' search efforts, was coming to St. Paul Friday for another weekend of searching. Instead, she attended the prayer service wearing a blue T-shirt that said: Bring Dan Home.

"I'm glad they found him, but I want to know what happened," she said. "Keep praying so we can find an answer."

Bloomquist said she wanted to be at St. Thomas on Friday night because she's grown close to Zamlen's college friends after spending the first nine days of the search around the campus.

"If I was at home, it would be really hard," she said. "This is where he was."

A balloon launch that had been scheduled for today as part of another search has been canceled.

St. Thomas president, the Rev. Dennis Dease, asked that the community support the Zamlen family with thoughts and prayers.

"The love and courage shown by his family throughout this difficult month has been an inspiration to all of us," Dease said.

Dan Zamlen disappeared in the early morning hours of April 5. According to reports, he had angrily left a party after an argument, and telephoned a friend saying he was walking down St. Clair Avenue toward Mississippi River Boulevard. He reportedly cried for help before his voice faded out.

An exhaustive search

Zamlen's disappearance unleashed a massive volunteer effort. Students went door to door, searching alleys and passing out 20,000 flyers around St. Paul.

Sue Nyberg, who acted as a family spokesman during the ordeal and had planned the balloon launch, got involved through her daughter, who attends St. Thomas, but she didn't know Zamlen. She said Zamlen was an Eagle Scout and a Tommie Ambassador, a volunteer school representative.

"I didn't know him either," Nyberg said. "But once you heard about the story, it spoke to your heart."

St. Thomas Dean of Students Karen Lange said Zamlen's disappearance had a profound effect on the campus, even among students who never knew him.

"So many people searched, both his friends and those who had never met him," Lange said.

Police had used a boat, a helicopter and a dog to search the bluff area. They suspended their search April 9 and said they had no reason to suspect foul play.

Zamlen also had Type I diabetes. Searchers were told that Zamlen was likely exhausted, if not in a coma, from low blood sugar and a lack of insulin. They were told to listen for a beeping noise from his OmniPod, a device that injects insulin into his body that can beep up to a week to warn of a low or absent insulin supply.

Sally Zamlen, Dan's mother, testified at the Legislature April 15 on behalf of a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to search immediately for missing adults they determine to be endangered. She told legislators she believed police moved too slowly in the first hours after Zamlen was reported missing.

Panos said police had checked out the area above the bluff for Zamlen or signs of foul play soon after the first report. But they didn't begin searching the bluff area until the next afternoon because adults have the right to be missing and often turn up on their own.

Zamlen's parents said they weren't ready to talk to reporters on Friday.

"There's a lot of sadness over what happened," Hennes said. "Everyone wished for a different outcome."

Staff writers Anthony Lonetree and Bill McAuliffe contributed to this report. cbrown@startribune.com • 612-673-4767 lpabst@startribune.com • 612-673-4628#

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