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'An emptiness' of nearly 20 years: Twin Cities family holds on to hope two decades after son’s disappearance

Jackie Edberg shows a photo of her son Nathan, left, at her Vadnais Heights home on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. Nathan has been missing since April 14, 1999. At right is a photo of all of her children, clockwise from top left, Nathan, Tony, Allison and Jennaya. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press1 / 2
Jackie Edberg has pictures of her kids and grandkids all around her Vadnais Heights home. Her son, Nathan, went missing on April 14, 1999, after being last seen at Decoy's Bar in White Bear Lake. He was 21 when he disappeared, and will turn 41 years old in September. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press2 / 2

VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn.—Nathan Edberg taught his younger siblings how to play basketball, stayed home from school with them when they were sick and had their backs if someone picked on them.

Tony, Jennaya and Allison Edberg and their mom, Jackie Edberg, haven't seen Nathan for nearly 20 years. As they've marked life's moments — graduations, marriages and having children — their memories of Nathan remain strong.

Nathan Edberg went missing on April 14, 1999, after being last seen at Decoy's Bar in White Bear Lake. He was 21 when he disappeared, and will turn 41 years old in September.

Investigators continue working on the case, with hopes of finding some evidence to help solve his disappearance.

The investigation

The night of his disappearance, Edberg's truck was found in a ditch near Interstates 694 and 35 with its lights off and doors locked. There was no physical evidence at the scene, and Edberg had only a pager on him at the time, according to investigators.

Since then, there have been no confirmed sightings or attempts at communication from him, investigators say.

"Basically, when I look at it, I can't eliminate anything at this point because we just don't have enough information," said Miles Kensler, a crime-scene investigator for the Ramsey County sheriff's office and now the fourth investigator on the case.

When someone disappears, Kensler said there are typically three initial theories explaining the disappearance. These include running away, meeting foul play or passing away from an accident. None of these are ruled out in Edberg's disappearance.

Throughout the two decades since his disappearance, advances in technology have changed how investigators approach the case. They now quickly run his DNA and Social Security number through databases and share an age-enhanced photo of Edberg on social media that reaches thousands.

"Twenty years ago, you couldn't reach that audience. You just couldn't. You would have to hope that somebody would see a snippet on the Channel 5 news and call in," Kensler said.

He added that he is hoping for "one piece of the puzzle" that leads him to answers about Edberg's disappearance.

"How can I go talk to Jackie and tell her I haven't done anything? How do you not care? It's hard to not feel a connection to that," Kensler said.

Jackie said Nathan was "going through a lot" at the time of his disappearance. She and Nathan's father had separated, his girlfriend broke up with him and he wasn't working.

"Everything was piling up. ... That often makes me think did he just say, 'To hell with this. I'm getting away,'" she said.

But Kensler said it's difficult for a person to up and disappear.

"I think it would be really hard for a person to ... not contact anybody (and) drop everything and leave," he said. But, he added that this doesn't rule out that Nathan Edberg isn't out there.

"It's very trying, but when you look at it, you have to understand this has been here for 20 years and you're not going to solve it in a day," Kensler said.

Family's resilience

Jackie Edberg calls the Ramsey County sheriff's office nearly every month to check for updates on her son's case.

Sometimes, she thinks she sees Nathan out in public. "I'm always looking for him. I know that sounds crazy after almost 20 years," she said.

Citing their mother's resilience, her three younger children say their life hasn't been "on pause" the past two decades.

"If I end up with a little bit of her resilience and strength and her ability to kind of keep going, everything will be fine," Jennaya Edberg said.

Jennaya, who was 15 when Nathan disappeared and now lives in Waverly, Minn., said she hopes for closure someday.

"There's always kind of a space, or an emptiness," she said. "It doesn't ever really go away. You think about it some days more than others."

Tony Edberg, who lives in Forest Lake, was 18 when Nathan went missing. At the time, he said they were two brothers who just had started developing an "adult" relationship.

"Through the years, we were always very close. ... Anything he was doing, I wanted to be involved in," Tony said.

The family has made a "collective effort" to remember Nathan while moving through life, Tony said.

"Obviously, we'd like to know what happened to him, where he is or — good news or bad news — what happened to him. We'd like to have that closure, but obviously that's something that may never happen to us," he said. "The longer time goes by, the more we realize we probably won't have closure until we pass."

Allison Edberg, the youngest sibling, was 8 years old when her brother disappeared. She's heard many stories from her family, but said, "I'll be honest ... I don't have a lot of my own memories."

The Edberg family prioritizes keeping in touch, she said. "I think the bond that we have now is something stronger that came from something tragic."

Jackie Edberg said she keeps faith that Nathan is alive. "I'll always hold onto that little hope because I haven't had to face a different reality," she said.

"My children, they have lived longer without him than with him. ... That's sad to me. ... And their memories are less clear with 20 years having gone by," she said.

Anyone with information about Nathan Edberg's disappearance is asked to call the Ramsey County sheriff's office at 651-266-7320.

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