It’s become Jay Steger’s new normal — walking alone every weekend through brush and woods, scouring for any signs of a body.
The quest, which has spanned nearly a dozen consecutive weekends, continued Saturday, days after police found the body of his daughter Kira Trevino in the Mississippi River last week.
As a weak sun struggled to warm the gray skies, Steger focused on finding a stranger — Mandy Matula.
“We’ve been doing it so long, it almost feels natural,” he said. “We’re still in search mode. We just want to pay it forward.”
The search for Matula, who disappeared from her Eden Prairie home May 1, came up empty Saturday, but it brought Steger’s family together with the Matulas, enabling them to comfort one another and share a grief few families will know.
“We’re all a family in this,” Matula’s brother, Steven, 21, told Steger after thanking him for helping.
Matula added a pink bracelet in remembrance of Trevino to his left wrist, his other wrist wrapped with a purple bracelet honoring his sister. And although he was hopeful he could bring his sister home to console his mom for Mother’s Day on Sunday, he also told Trevino’s father he was growing frustrated. “We have no idea where to look,” he said.
“We know the feeling,” Steger replied. “We’re doing our best. Be strong.”
The unresolved mystery of what happened to Matula, 24, is the last of three missing-person cases that have gripped the Twin Cities in recent months. On Friday, police found the body of Danielle Jelinek, an Oakdale woman who disappeared in December.
The Chisago County medical examiner completed autopsy results Saturday but didn’t release details of how Jelinek died.
Saturday was the 10th day Matula has been missing. She was last seen leaving her parents’ Eden Prairie house with her ex-boyfriend, David Roe, 24, who fatally shot himself the next day outside City Hall when police called him in for questioning.
On Saturday, law enforcement officials searched the Mississippi River near St. Cloud, where Roe went to college, while more than 300 friends, family and volunteers searched Waconia and Victoria, where Roe lived. Many wore buttons with Matula’s photo or neon yellow shirts that read “No stone goes unturned.”
“People look at us and say ‘oh you’re from Eden Prairie,’ but Eden Prairie has heart,” said Judi Laurence, a family friend. “We’ll show everybody how we come together.”
The search has captivated the suburban community, which hasn’t had a homicide in three years. Hundreds of residents fanned out to search back yards, baseball fields and city parks, powered by donated food and drinks from local businesses. The Eden Prairie City Council held a moment of silence last week at City Hall, where Steven and Mandy Matula worked — and where Roe fatally shot himself.
From Eden Prairie parks to Lake Minnetonka boat launches, volunteers have posted an estimated 20,000 fliers with Matula’s photo at lake entrances, gas stations and liquor stores, hoping to spread the word to anglers headed out for Saturday’s fishing opener.
“It has united us in our humanity,” Matula’s neighbor Kathie Radcliffe said of the search, choking up. “The sense of community goes beyond Eden Prairie.” That was true for total strangers such as Jodie Leko of St. Paul, who had organized searches for Trevino.
“Finding her has been very emotional,” Leko said of Trevino, whom she had never met. “Being able to come out and do something [now for Matula’s family] has helped.”
It’s therapeutic for Steger, too. In all his grief and loss, he finds more ease from the pain being among strangers in search parties than sitting at his Marshfield, Wis., home.
“We had to be here,” he said Saturday, reflecting on the week that had brought his family and Jelinek’s an end to the torment of not knowing what had happened to their loved ones. “That would be a perfect weekend — three for three.”