A 28-year-old Brainerd man vanished and is believed to have died within view of the city's lights on a cold winter night, but his remains have never been found.
For his family, the long ordeal of searches, frustration and hope are coming to rest in one respect. A memorial service is planned Saturday in Sandy, Ore. There will be a burial plot and a marker and an empty grave.
But family members still have lingering hope Shawn Hess' remains may yet be found. It is a hope echoed by law enforcement.
Hess is believed to have died from hypothermia in February just east of Brainerd's city limits. He vanished sometime during the night of Feb. 27. Searches that covered a mile east of Brainerd along the railroad tracks revealed clues but not Hess' remains.
A jacket matching the description of one Hess owned was found during an extensive May 6 search of a swampy area east of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad shops near the Highway 25 overpass in east Brainerd.
But air, ground and dog searches did not find Hess.
"I think there are a lot of unanswered questions like, 'What were you thinking?' or like 'Which way did you go?' -- that's what drives my husband crazy," his mother, Sherry Anderly, said in a recent phone interview from her Oregon home.
In June, Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc said based on more items of clothing found in the area, Hess is believed to be dead. Most of his clothing was found, including his shoes and socks. It is common for people suffering from hypothermia to remove their clothing even as they are freezing to death.
Hess was last seen near Eighth and Oak streets in Brainerd. He attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at 16th and Oak streets that February night and was last seen heading east. He was going to get something to eat and come back. When he never returned, his 37-year-old uncle, Joe Hess, looked for him that night to no avail.
Shawn Hess was reported missing the next day.
His grandmother, Angie Hess, who lives in Brainerd, said she was told the police have different reactions to a missing child, suspected foul play or a missing adult. And active searches for an adult usually are confined to those with special circumstances.
But Angie Hess said she felt the special circumstances of Shawn Hess' mental problems should have come into consideration. Those first lost days when Shawn Hess' body may have been found haunt family members.
"We should have been there sooner, pushing harder," Angie Hess said of official search efforts. After the first official search came up with clothing, she said she was so sure they were going to find him.
Today Bolduc said he understands the family's frustration. But Bolduc said more details about Hess' disappearance came two weeks after Feb. 27 when the police department started to look into the case. Bolduc said in most cases missing adults turn up later, perhaps in other cities, and it is unusual for an adult to wander into the woods and perish. But Bolduc said he understands the family is agonizing over the situation because there is no closure without a body.
"I don't know had we done anything differently, if the outcome would have been different," Bolduc said, noting the remote area and the uncertainty about how far Hess may have walked. "We have as many unanswered questions as the family does in terms of his location."
Hess had been living in Minnesota for four years. He grew up in Oregon but moved to the Brainerd area to be with his father who operates a roofing business. There were hopes better programs in the lakes area here would help Shawn Hess turn his life around. His grandmother said he lived in a spartan apartment.
He told her he wanted it that way to act as a motivator to go back to school, get a job and get his life back together.
Sherry Anderly described her son as breathless. To say he was an active child may be conservative. Family members are quick to acknowledge Hess was not problem free. He had dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. He tried drugs and struggled with mental illness.
"He had a good heart," Anderly said.
Anderly said she knows there are other tragedies and energy cannot be directed entirely in one place, but that is still harder to accept when the person lost is a loved one. Shawn Hess' father and uncle go out and search quite often.
Every night for hours at a time, Anderly was online contacting search and rescue teams across the country, looking for experts who might be willing to search. But many would only work with a law enforcement request.
The Anderlys came from Oregon to search three times. Anderly's husband, Hess' stepfather, took a rubber raft and searched two ponds in the area.
"I understand it gets to a certain point like a lost hunter. They only can search for so long and you finally have to say, 'This is the most we can do,'" Anderly said, her voice breaking. "But the most frustrating thing is they know about where he is."
And Anderly said what is missing is expert advice that could tell them how much territory a young man in his condition could cover considering the rough terrain and the weather.
"Are we really looking too close to the (railroad) tracks, should we be searching farther out -- that's it, we just don't know," Anderly said.
Without his remains, there will always be just a shadow in the back of the mind -- wondering.
Anderly finds herself looking all the time for people who have a similar build. On the drive to her workplace in Oregon, she finds herself looking beside the road and into the woods.
"You know he's not (there) but its automatic," she said. "Or you see someone walking along who looks like him and then wonder if he could have made it."
But then she is reminded of the days that passed without contact, like Mother's Day.
Hess always called on Mother's Day and when that call did not come Anderly was convinced her son was no longer living.
"He would have called even if he was embarrassed he disappeared and did not contact someone," she said. "He would have contacted us."
A graveside service is set for 11 a.m. at Sandy Ridge Cemetery outside Sandy, Ore. His mother wrote a memorial passage.
"We have to let go and find some closure in the loss of our son and brother, Shawn. ... Until we can bring him home, his resting place will be a rural area in Minnesota. He sleeps surrounded by tall grasses, shallow streams and marshes. The wind will now be his much loved music. The grasses his bed. The leaves will cover him like his blanket and the marshes will become his playground. And under the white cover of snow, he will be at peace there. ..."
Now the family and law enforcement say they hope a hunter who stumbles upon anything suspicious in the area or suspected human remains will report the finding.
"I think I've come to finally accept it," Angie Hess said of the prospect her grandson's remains may never be found.
"Shawn had a hard life and like his mom said, he is finally free and at peace."
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