Shari Wagner was grieving the death of her young grandson in April when the sunlight streaming over her shoulder struck a wood and glass display case across her living room.
Caught in the rays, she noticed, were small smudges and a handprint — tracks that 1 ½-year-old Abraham Flynn had left behind before he was struck and killed by a van on April 16.
“ ‘Oh my gosh, I have a part of him here,’ ” Wagner said she thought at the time. “Every morning I’d wake up and check on it.”
As the days passed, Wagner had a growing fear that the handprint would disappear — that is, until St. Paul police officer Mark Lundquist arrived at her Mendota Heights home Monday morning to preserve the print.
Working on an hour’s sleep after completing a 12-hour overnight shift investigating St. Paul’s most recent homicide, Lundquist crawled under the cabinet door and removed the pane of glass in question.
After a painstaking effort using different techniques and his expertise in forensics, he was able to preserve the images, allowing Shari Wagner and her husband, Eric, to keep a part of Abraham with them forever.
Shari Wagner said she planned to have an artist turn one handprint into jewelry. The Police Department also planned to turn at least one print into a poster-sized piece of artwork for the family.
The Wagners described Abraham as “always smiling” and a “joyful light to our family.” He loved throwing toys for his grandparents’ dog to fetch in the living room, and they believe he likely left the handprints behind on a special night that he spent alone with them.
“Truly, we were just getting to know him,” Shari Wagner said.
Abraham, or “Angel Abe” as he is known in the family, was the youngest of three boys born to the Wagners’ daughter. He lived in Osceola, Wis., with his parents and brothers and visited his grandparents often.
The day Abraham died, he and his siblings had been dropped off at a neighbor’s home in Farmington Township in western Wisconsin. A winter storm was blowing through the Upper Midwest, and Arthur Elmquist was moving a large panel van to plow his driveway. Authorities said Elmquist unknowingly backed into Abraham as the boy played in the snow.
The Polk County District Attorney’s Office said Monday that the case against Elmquist was presented and declined for prosecution.
‘Let’s do this right’
The smudges were visible yet fuzzy as Lundquist shifted the 31-inch by 10 ½-inch panel of glass in his hands. He carefully placed the glass on butcher paper and wrapped it several times before transporting it to the department’s forensic services unit, where he has worked for four years processing fingerprints, photographing crime scenes and investigating some of the city’s most violent crimes.
Shari Wagner had recently reached out to her childhood friend and retired St. Paul police officer, Bill Haider, for help in preserving the handprint. Lundquist said Haider called him last week for instructions, but Lundquist instead volunteered to carry out the work on his day off.
“I said, ‘Let’s do this right,’ ” said Lundquist, a 31-year law enforcement veteran who has worked in St. Paul for nearly 22 years. “This is the first time I’ve done anything like this.”
The department and Lundquist’s supervisors backed him up.
“In the lab, we don’t get a chance very often to help people who are still alive, so it’s nice to do what we can,” said Sgt. Robert Kruse, a supervisor in the forensic services unit.
Lundquist first tried to photograph the prints under ultraviolet light without processing the glass with chemicals, which could damage the prints. That proved difficult given their quality. He then applied an orange-colored solution to the glass in a fuming chamber to highlight the prints.
Lundquist and officer Doug Wilson ran the glass through more viewings under ultraviolet light and a laser.
“This is fantastic,” Wilson said as the officers identified two handprints and several fingerprints.
Lundquist captured several photos of the prints that lab scientists would later pare down and possibly stitch into composite images.
On Monday, Shari Wagner sat in the spot where she first discovered the handprint.
“It’s important that his sweet little life goes on with positivity and goodness,” she said.