American Renaissance

Gray Cloud Plagues Woman’s Hometown

Megan Boldt,, Apr. 19

PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — Strong winds and rain nailed the Pequot Lakes area Sunday morning, uprooting trees and scattering debris across yards and roads. But it wasn’t the only storm the community was trying to weather.

Residents tried to come to grips with the fact that searchers had found the body of one of their own in a ravine near Crookston, Minn. Dru Sjodin, 22, was abducted from a mall parking lot in Grand Forks, N.D., and had been missing for almost five months.

Many people said they were sad but relieved that Sjodin’s parents can at least bring their daughter back home.

“It’s nice for the family to have closure,” said Jean Erickson of Crosslake, Minn. “We’ve had people disappear from this area that haven’t been found.”

Erickson and Dene Carney, both residents of Crosslake and members of Sjodin’s church, said they had a feeling last week that searchers would find Sjodin this weekend.

“We thought, ‘This is it,’ “ said Carney, who serves as a Lions Club member with Sid Walker, Sjodin’s stepfather.

“There really is no comfort for (the family) except it’s closed,” Carney said. “And I guess that’s a comfort in itself.

“We’re all thankful at this point that it’s closed … but just not the way it closed.”

There’s no question people in Pequot Lakes, Crosslake, Nisswa — or any other community in the area — did not forget about Sjodin.

Pink ribbons adorn stop signs, lampposts and trees all over the area. Some are tattered and worn from the long winter months. But others are new. A group just went out in Pequot Lakes a couple weeks ago to replace the old ribbons with new pale pink bows, according to Mayor Cathy Malecha.

And a sign outside Crosslake Lutheran Church, where Sjodin and some of her family are members, reminded those passing by to “Pray for Dru.”

The Rev. Mark Anderson said the past several months have been difficult for the congregation of 1,000 members. Something this tragic can cause people to examine their faith and question God, he said.

“Questions are normal. In fact, they’re healthy,” Anderson said. “Our faith does waver when things like this happen. But it’s a chance to see God work through people — people who are grieving. God can take an evil thing … and turn it into something good.”

Lou Hoglund, publisher of two local newspapers, the Lake Country Echo and Pine River Journal, said the mood and atmosphere this weekend around the area were much like the weather — very gray.

The somberness even took hold at an employee’s bridal shower Saturday afternoon. “It was a really empty experience, which was bizarre,” he said. “This is supposed to be a joyous event. She’s getting married. But it was hard. … I mean this woman is only a couple years older than Dru.”

Sarah Dill, who works at Lakes Latte in Pequot Lakes, said the news hit everyone hard this weekend. She said people came running in from the streets and the grocery store next door when they heard the news that Sjodin’s body had been found.

“It’s like any news in a small town,” the 23-year-old Nisswa resident said. “Everyone’s talking about it.”

A group of residents started planning a legacy garden in downtown Pequot Lakes for Sjodin even before her body was found. Police Chief Mark Forsberg said they picked plants that would bloom in September, Sjodin’s birthday month.

The past five months have brought a change of attitude to this community as well. Lake Country Echo editor Bryan Clapper said 200 to 300 citizens packed a town hall meeting this winter to tell area legislators and state Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian what they think about the way Minnesota handles its sex offenders.

Some residents also are on edge because a Level 2 sex offender moved into Pequot Lakes a couple months ago, Clapper said.

Alfonso Rodriquez Jr., the Crookston man who has been charged with kidnapping Sjodin, is a convicted sex offender. His arrest has spurred intense debate over what the state should do with repeat sex offenders. Politicians have been proposing everything from reinstating the death penalty to life sentences for repeat offenders.

Clapper said from what he’s seen and heard, he figures most people in the area want to see the death penalty reinstated in some form in light of the Sjodin kidnapping.

Her abduction and apparent murder also have shaken some residents’ sense of security — something they’re not used to in Pequot Lakes and its surrounding small towns.

Hoglund said he installed security lights in the parking lots at both newspaper offices. Dill said worried parents share their concerns with her when they stop by for coffee.

“One of the regulars … he said, ‘I would never think of my daughter being in danger in a town like Grand Forks,’ “ Dill said. “When he said that, it really hit me.”

Hoglund said the area has experienced too much trauma recently. Two other area women went missing over the past three years. Rachel Anthony was abducted from Ultimate Liquors in Pine River on Feb. 27, 2001. Erika Dalquist of Brainerd disappeared in October 2002 when she was 21.

Anthony’s body was later found, but Dalquist remains missing. Both cases are still unsolved.

Plus, a police officer and a popular teacher both committed suicide over the past year, Hoglund said.

Some hoped that when the boys basketball team made the state tournament, it might lift people’s spirits a little bit.

“But after they lost in the first round, everyone settled back into a mass depression,” Hoglund said. “A lot of joy has been erased for some … for everyone really.”