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Ground search conducted near Alexandria for missing 18-year-old

Laura Ann Schwendemann 2 / 3
A group of about 110 area firefighters, first responders and law enforcement students and officers search a field in southeast Forada Friday afternoon, looking for any clues that could be connected to the disappearance of 18-year-old Laura Ann Schwendemann of Starbuck. (Al Edenloff | Echo Press)3 / 3

FORADA, Minn. -- More than 100 firefighters, first responders and law enforcement students and officers searched a wide, rural area southeast of Forada on Friday and Saturday, looking for any clues to find an 18-year-old Starbuck woman who has been missing for nine days.

Walking just a few feet apart on Friday afternoon, they crossed over a stream and trudged through wet, muddy fields, searching for anything unusual.

The ground search for Laura Ann Schwendemann started Friday and continued Saturday. The search area encompasses roughly a two-mile area, said Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen. Forada is a town of about 200 people roughly 15 miles south of Alexandria.

Authorities decided to conduct the search based on new information they received in the case. At this point, authorities are not asking for volunteers to join the search.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, (320) 762-8151, or Pope County Sheriff's Office, (320) 634-5411.

Wolbersen had said Thursday that the missing teen might still be in the area.

"We are working under the assumption that she could be nearby—in Pope, Stevens, Grant or Douglas (counties)—but she could be well beyond that area," Wolbersen said Thursday, the day before the search started.

When asked if investigators believe Schwendemann is still alive after being missing for eight days, Wolbersen said they are not drawing any conclusions about outcomes at this point.

"We are working the case under the assumption that she is not deceased," Wolbersen said. "We are following any and all information we get....Our hopes are that we can safely return her to her family."

Schwendemann was last seen at the Holiday Gas Station on 50th Avenue in Alexandria at approximately 9:29 p.m. on Oct. 14.

Investigators do not believe Schwendemann left voluntarily. Based on information developed to date, investigators do not believe there is an ongoing risk to public safety.

"We don't think she is hiding," Wolbersen said. "We encourage anyone with information to call us."

Wolbersen said that investigators continue to conduct interviews and follow leads.

"We feel there are people out there with information that are not coming forward for whatever reason," he said. "We really need that level of cooperation."

Authorities have conducted searches on the ground, brought in K-9 units, and have looked for her by helicopter, Wolbersen said.

They aren't planning additional searches unless new information comes in. Wolbersen said that searching for her without more specific information would be like "trying to find a needle in 30 haystacks."

Several other agencies have assisted in the case — the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Alexandria Police Department, Starbuck Police Department and the West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, Wolbersen said.

They are continuing to ask for the public's help with two key elements in the case—a black car and a blue house.

Anyone who spotted a 1997 black Geo Prism with a loud exhaust between 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 to 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 15 is urged to contact authorities. Wolbersen said investigators already know where the car was before and after that period but knowing its location during that specific time frame could help the case.

Also, the sheriff's office is requesting the public's help in locating a blue-colored residence with a statue approximately three feet tall near the end of the driveway. The statue is described as having blue clothing and a red hat.

This location is only being sought as a general area where Schwendemann may have been seen and is not where investigators think she is, Wolbersen said.

Investigators are staying in contact with Schwendemann's family and keeping them updated on the case.

"They've been very cooperative and are obviously very concerned," Wolbersen said. "We've put a lot of manpower into this and we will continue to do so."

Schwendemann is a student at the University of Minnesota-Morris and once worked at the Water's Edge Restaurant and Bar in Starbuck, according to her Facebook page.

Hunters and farmers in the area are asked to call and report anything suspicious they see in the area. Investigators have placed a special interest on the townships of Holmes City and Solem in Douglas County and Nora and Ben Wade in Pope County.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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