An Anxious Search on the Plains: Stubborn Hopes for a Woman's Safe Return

Article excerpt

Byline: Ryan Bakken and Dirk Johnson

Dru Sjodin turns heads. The 22-year-old University of North Dakota senior with blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes--the homecoming queen in high school, as well as an honor student--was strolling through the Columbia Mall parking lot on the afternoon of Nov. 22. Finished with her shift at Victoria's Secret, she was chatting with her boyfriend on a cell phone. Suddenly, her tone changed: "Oh, my God!" she exclaimed. And then--nothing. Sjodin seemed to vanish.

For more than two weeks now, nobody has seen or heard from Sjodin. Police fear she caught the eye that afternoon of Alfonso Rodriguez, 50, a convicted rapist with a violent history. Rodriguez has been arrested and charged with kidnapping Sjodin. There is still no trace of her. The search continues to find her, but hopes now battle against the grim odds.

Some 1,700 searchers--including Sjodin's cousins from across the nation--have scoured riverbanks, ditches, ravines and grasslands in the flat, treeless prairie of the Upper Midwest. Sjodin's father, Allen, said he is "not wavering" in his resolve to find his daughter alive. But he said learning of Rodriguez's past "was a shock to my system." According to some reports, the blood type in Rodriguez's car matches Sjodin's. The case of Elizabeth Smart, the kidnapped Utah girl who surfaced after nine months, fuels the hope for miracles. But even the searchers and police find it difficult to sound optimistic. …