Parents want changes so searches start more quickly

By Martiga Lohn

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — The parents of a University of St. Thomas student who disappeared 10 days ago are calling for faster, more aggressive searches when young adults disappear.

Sally and Dale Zamlen of Eveleth told a House panel Wednesday about the delays and frustration of trying to find their son, Dan Zamlen, a diabetic who turned 19 a week ago. He vanished while walking along the Mississippi River bluffs early April 5 after leaving a party.

Sally Zamlen said it took hours for police to arrive at the location where her son disappeared, and days passed before bloodhounds searched for his scent. She said she had to get a court order to pinpoint Dan’s cell phone signal, but by then the phone’s battery was dead.


The Zamlens are supporting a bill from GOP House Minority Leader Marty Seifert to revamp Minnesota’s missing persons laws for young adults and adults who disappear under suspicious or dangerous circumstances.

"If that law had been in place on Sunday morning, there would have been police down there, there would have been dogs down there, there would have been you know, somebody in communication with the phone company," Sally Zamlen said.

She added: "We would have had a 4-day head start on everything we’re doing now."

Seifert’s bill would require authorities to take and investigate missing persons reports on adults, no matter how little time they’ve been missing and even if the disappearance may have been intentional.

Some law enforcement agencies now wait 24 or 48 hours to look into such cases, since adults can choose to go away without telling others. But the practice can cost precious time.

Seifert’s bill is named for Brandon Swanson, a 19-year-old who disappeared last May after running his car off the road in rural western Minnesota. Seifert said Swanson was on foot and speaking on a cell phone with his father when he disappeared.

"It was 2 in the morning, he was talking to his dad, taking the shortcut through the meadow, he was jumping fences and going through rough terrain. And one of his last statements was ‘Oh shoot, water,’ or something on that order. That is why we feel the Yellow Medicine River is probably what happened. Nobody knows for sure," said Seifert, R-Marshall.

Seifert said law enforcement agencies in the area had uneven approaches to Swanson’s case.


Under his bill, if a missing person is determined to be "endangered" — meaning he or she was abducted or disappeared in a dangerous situation or for more than 30 days — the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and other resources would come in.

Young adults could become the subject of such a search for even more reasons, including need for medical attention or medication, mental impairment, past threats of violence or going lost in the wilderness. The bill also encourages authorities to use subpoenas or search warrants if necessary to locate someone by pinging a cell phone or other electronic devices.

The House Finance Committee approved the bill, sending it to the full House.

Dale Zamlen said help searching for his son came quickly from organizations like the Jon Francis Foundation and the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, set up to help families find missing loved ones. He said the laws need to catch up.

"Law enforcement did as well as they could," he said. "Their hands are tied."

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