IN-DEPTH: The search for the missing never stops

How Minnesotans search for the missing has changed over the past few years and leading the charge has been the families of missing loves ones.

The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center

It started when Jacob Wetterling was abducted in 1989. His parents established the Jacob Wetterling Foundation within months of the abduction, and the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center now works on reducing abductions, sexual assaults, and provides counseling and advocacy for families.

“We’ve grown tremendously in our response. A lot of that was through technology, through Amber Alerts, getting the media engaged. Also through social media,” Patty Wetterling told Fox 9. “We know more about who takes children, we know more about how they’re returned.”

United Legacy 

There is no handbook for families searching for a loved one. While police help with searching, the daunting task often lands on the shoulders of families — especially after weeks or months go by with no conclusion. Deanna Villella found herself in that situation of “panic” when her brother, Christopher Rossing, went missing in Wright County in 2014. Early searches lacked organization, and were sometimes dangerous. The search sparked the idea of starting a non-profit that would provide both logistical and emotional services to families. Today, the idea is a reality: an organization called United Legacy.

“I realized there wasn’t anything really out there. There wasn’t really anyone out there to do what we needed to do,” Deanna told Fox 9. 

Searches organized by United Legacy have found several bodies in the last year. Deanna, herself, found the remains of a woman missing for eleven days. The organization is comprised of volunteers, and families who’ve lost loved ones. They try to help without giving false hope, while using social media to mobilize as many searchers as possible. Volunteers are trained in conducting “hand-in-hand” grid searches.

“What United Legacy does is come to you at your most vulnerable moment, when you’re scared, when you don’t know which way is up and which is down,” said Sara Saba, whose best friend’s body was found after 125 days.

“There were horses, drones, helicopters, snowmobiles, everyone in there in orange and yellow. It was overwhelming, but it was comforting,” said Jodi Greenman, whose son’s body was found after week.

United Legacy’s first major search was for Joe Brunn, who vanished in Otsego in 2015. Thousands of volunteers searched for five days — on foot, on horse, on ATV, by helicopter. Volunteers found Joe’s body on the fifth day.

“All the good people of Minnesota kept coming and coming and coming,” said Patty Brunn, the mother of Joe.

United Legacy leaders hope to expand their services to the entire state, and eventually the entire country. The organization’s first charity event is Friday, May 20th, at the The Rink in Monticello. Tickets are still available.

Minnesota United

Minnesota United also arose from tragedy: the disappearance of Mandy Matula in 2013. Steven Matula, Mandy’s sister, started the organization to share information on missing people through social media, and to help with searching.