CROSSLAKE -- While law enforcement authorities and the media continue to focus on Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the Level 3 sex offender who has been accused of kidnapping her, Sjodin's family spoke Tuesday at Crosslake Lutheran Church of the missing daughter they can't stop aching for.
Linda Walker, Sjodin's mother, showed reporters at a news conference Tuesday several of her daughter's high school photographs and other mementos. Like Sjodin's Spirit Award she received while on the golf team at Pequot Lakes High School, where she graduated in 2000.
She held up Sjodin's high school graduation portraits, which were later used in the photo studio's advertising campaign. She showed the candid photographs of Sjodin and friends hugging one another in their graduation gowns. Many of the same friends have helped investigators perform ground searches in the Grand Forks area for Sjodin, who has been missing since Nov. 22.
There was Sjodin's kindergarten drawing she won first place with in a "Just Say No to Drugs" coloring contest, and a drawing she created of a child for her mother as a Christmas gift last year. The Walkers brought a "Mom's Brag Book" that Sjodin put together for her mother, filled with smiling baby photographs of Sjodin and her brother, Sven, who has remained in Grand Forks searching for his little sister.
"He's got a big heart," said Walker, of her son.
Sjodin has always been a thoughtful daughter, she said. She read from a card Sjodin had given to her shortly before she was abducted. It was a thank you card for a gift that Walker had given to her.
In part, the card read: "It's that empty space between goodbye and hello I could do without."
Linda Walker, the mother of missing college student Dru Sjodin, wore a button with her daughter's photograph on it during a news conference in Crosslake Tuesday. (Dispatch Photo by Nels Norquist)
The card, which included a short handwritten note and a big red heart drawn by her daughter, was signed simply, "Dru."
Linda and Sid Walker have put their lives on hold as they continue to hold out hope that their daughter will be found alive. Linda has taken time off work as a flight attendant for Sun Country Airlines. Her coworkers are donating their sick leave to Walker to help the family out financially. Sid Walker, who owns Walker Travel, said he has stopped by his office a few times just to check his e-mail. Most e-mail is from well-wishers who want to help. The couple has been married for 15 years and moved to the Pequot Lakes area in 1992 from Mound after vacationing here.
The Pequot Lakes area was a place they wanted to raise Sven and Dru, a community that the Walkers said has been one of the greatest comforts for them as they try to keep hope alive in the search for their daughter.
They've traveled to Grand Forks but prefer to stay home, waiting for their daughter to call. If they do leave their rural Pequot Lakes home, they try to make sure someone is always there to answer the phone. Linda said she visited her daughter's on-campus apartment at UND last week, picking up a few articles of her clothing. It was something of her daughter's she could hold on to.
Paul McCabe, an FBI agent based in Minneapolis, has been staying with the Walker family and helping them field media calls.
Neighbors and community members have been a tremendous support, said Walker. They have given the family food and offered to help in many ways. Friends of the 22-year-old missing UND student have remained in the Grand Forks area since shortly after she disappeared. One high school friend of Sjodin's told the Walkers he may flunk out of college, but he refuses to leave Grand Forks and won't stop looking for their daughter until she is found. The Walkers said they planned to compensate many of Sjodin's friends who abruptly left jobs and college behind to participate in the search.
Linda Walker thanked several community members and businesses for offering their services and support in the search for her daughter.
Kelsey Pederson (left) and Jeanna Baratto, high school friends of Dru Sjodin, embraced Tuesday during a news conference at Crosslake Lutheran Church in Crosslake. (Dispatch Photo by Nels Norquist)
"There are just no words," she said. "Thank you truly comes from the bottom of our hearts."
Walker was joined at the news conference Tuesday by her brother, David Sutfin, Falls Church, Va., and his wife, Carol. They had planned to join the Walkers for Thanksgiving, the first time in 30 years they'd all been together on the holiday. Sjodin had visited them last year and they had been looking forward to seeing her again at Thanksgiving.
"Princess, we'll see you soon," Carol Sutfin said to her niece. "We'll have to wait a little longer and hope it's not too much longer. I love you very much. ... We will not give up. We're going to make Sidney cook Thanksgiving dinner over again when you come home."
The family asked that Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., the Crookston man arrested Monday for kidnapping Sjodin, cooperate with police in order to bring their daughter home.
"We hope Mr. Rodriguez will see it in his heart that there is an aunt, an uncle, a brother and a mother waiting to see her come home," David Sutfin said. "We all want her in our arms."
"Please cooperate with authorities and lead us to Dru," said Linda Walker.
David Sutfin said family members are focusing their energies on finding Sjodin, not on Rodriguez.
Linda Walker said she has had her moments of anger since her daughter's disappearance Nov. 22, but she felt relieved when she was told that an arrest had been made in the case.
"Relieved, that it is a huge step to getting closer to Dru," said Walker. "It was a very emotional day, to say the least."
She said Rodriguez' arrest gave the family hope. She said they were thankful knowing that he was no longer on the streets.
The Walker family told reporters Tuesday they do not know any inside information about Rodriguez or about any evidence. They said they do not have any information other than what has been released to the public.
David Sutfin said a tip caller brought Rodriguez to the attention of law enforcement authorities. He urged people with information on the case to call the Grand Forks Police Department or go to the family's Web site, finddru.com.
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