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Sjodin Family Lends Hands, Hearts

Bob Heales, left, a private investigator involved in the search of Erika Dalquist, discusses at a news conference Sunday, May 16, 2004, at the Brainerd, Minn., Police Department, the finding of the remains of Dalquist, a Brainerd woman last seen a year and a half ago. Erika's mother, Colleen, is at center rear, and Erika's husband is pictured at right rear.
AP
Just a few nights after searchers found the body of his missing daughter, Allan Sjodin's thoughts were on another family from Minnesota, and another missing daughter.

Sjodin and private investigator Bob Heales were discussing ways to help distraught families, particularly that of Erika Dalquist, 21, who had vanished after leaving a Brainerd bar on Oct. 30, 2002.

"He's a pretty strong man, a man with a big heart," Heales said Monday of Sjodin. "And he felt the Dalquists' pain. He knew exactly what they were going through."

Heales had helped the Sjodin family organize searches for their daughter Dru, a University of North Dakota student who disappeared from the Grand Forks, N.D., shopping mall Nov. 22.

After Dru's body turned up in a ditch on April 17, Sjodin and Heales turned their attention to Erika Dalquist. "We wanted to help them out the best we could," Sjodin said.

It worked. On May 16, a man looking for a bloodhound that had run away while out in the woods came across Erika's remains. The longtime suspect in Erika's disappearance, William Gene Myears, was charged Monday with second-degree murder.

In an interview with USA Today, Allan Sjodin called the discovery of Dalquist's body a "double-edged sword. There's the joy that now the Dalquist family doesn't have to wake up every morning and wonder."

The clothing on the remains that were found is reportedly the same as that worn by Dalquist when she was last seen Oct. 30, 2002, as she left a bar in downtown Brainerd, about 100 miles north of Minneapolis.

Myears is still at large. Prosecutors dropped charges against him in January 2003 because of a lack of evidence and authorities don't know where he is now, Police Chief John Bolduc said.

Heales said he and Sjodin agreed during the search for Dru that missing young adults didn't seem to get the same attention as younger children, and they hoped to change that.

Brainerd police passed their offer of help to Erika's grateful parents, Duane and Colleen Dalquist. Dalquist's mother had attended Dru's wake, and the couple credited the successful search for Dru with reviving public interest in Erika.

Heales and Sjodin organized a search that drew about 200 volunteers May 8. They enlisted about 100 to go out again Saturday.

Joining them both times was Denny Adams, a bloodhound handler from Conde, S.D., whose dogs also searched for Dru. Other Sjodin relatives participated, and Dru's boyfriend, Chris Lang, of Minneapolis, went out May 8.

Lang, a longtime family friend of Heales', said looking for Erika after similar searches for Dru was "surreal."

"It was the exact same thing, just a different place," Lang said. "I just kept thinking about that we had Dru home, and they didn't yet."

The break came when one of Adams' bloodhounds caught a scent and ran off. A man looking for the dog on horseback found Erika's remains just off a trail on property of the suspect's grandparents about seven miles east of Brainerd.

Heales and Sjodin said they've learned an important lesson: never give up.

"With any of these cases it takes some luck, especially after this much time," Heales said. "But if you don't get out there and try, you can't make that luck."