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Missing Detroit Lakes woman found thanks to heroic state trooper

A 90-year-old Detroit Lakes woman with dementia was found by a state trooper near the Detroit Lake shoreline on North Shore Drive nearly four hours after leaving her memory care unit on Dec. 7.

MissingDL.jpg
Screenshot of surveillance footage of a missing 90-year-old woman just before she left an Ecumen - The Cottages memory care unit in Detroit Lakes on Dec. 7, 2022.
Contributed / Facebook / Detroit Lakes Police Department
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DETROIT LAKES — A missing, vulnerable Detroit Lakes woman was found near the Detroit Lake shoreline by an intuitive state trooper nearly four hours after she first went missing from her Ecumen memory care unit on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

At 3:59 p.m., Becker County emergency dispatchers relayed the call of a missing, vulnerable 90-year-old Detroit Lakes woman to any available units in the area and, within minutes, emergency responders, officers, sheriff's deputies, troopers and other public service staff all mustered in the nearby Detroit Lakes High School parking lot to begin their search pattern, said Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steve Todd.

"We had every available resource on the scene," said Todd. "Every police officer, detective, every available deputy, and fire department members, and EMS squad members, everybody that could help was there helping."

The woman was last seen on surveillance video leaving her memory care unit at 1:35 p.m. wearing a black coat and white hat. Todd said the woman had wandered off before, so the search teams decided to focus on the area she had previously been found.

Other officers stayed at the memory care unit to search the building and property again before joining the rest of the search party, said Todd, and one of those people was Minnesota State Trooper Michael Lundeen.

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"One of the first things we always do is double-check the area that the person went missing from, just to make sure that something wasn't overlooked," said Todd. "(Lundeen) had looked through the missing person's residence building ... and we kind of broke up after we checked the parking lots ... and he kind of went off on his own."

Todd said Lundeen told him that he had a "feeling" that he should look for footprints near the intersection of Madison Avenue and North Shore Drive.

"He started kind of combing that area, looking in the yards ... and a set of footprints caught his eye," Todd said. "He just had a feeling to go check those further and he did."

The footprints led Lundeen to a fence, between some houses and then out onto the lake, said Todd. However, he said, then Lundeen lost the tracks and decided to move his vehicle about seven houses down the block to see if he could reacquire the footprints, which he did.

"He kept following them and he said he came to a spot where it looked like the person had fallen down near a dock area near the lake shore and then he started to feel like he might really be onto something," said Todd. "He heard something and lifted up his eyes, looked, and there he saw our missing woman laying on the stone riprap."

Lundeen found the woman, cold, but responsive, laying on the riprap at about 5:07 p.m. near the 400 block of North Shore Drive. Lundeen tried to keep her warm until other emergency personnel arrived at their location. The woman was transported to Essentia Health St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes for evaluation. According to her family, she suffered no frostbite or any adverse effects from the incident.

"It was a Christmas miracle right here in Detroit Lakes, there is no other way to put it," said Todd. "In a situation like this, the time clock is clicking the minute we get the call, and in this situation, it was clicking quite a while before we got the call."

He continued: "There wasn't a lot of time left, I can tell you that. And in that area, it's not a regularly traveled area ... and had Trooper Lundeen not did what he did, I think we'd be having a much sadder conversation."

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Todd also said the area where the woman was found wasn't in their search pattern because of past experiences with the woman, and they had received a tip that a woman wearing a black coat and white hat was spotted in the downtown area, so there were focusing their efforts elsewhere.

"Our focus wasn't where (Lundeen) was looking and it probably wouldn't have been for a significant amount of time," said Todd. "That's why this story is so special because (Lundeen) got that 'feeling' and however you want to look about how he got that feeling, I have my opinion, but he was led to that spot and if he hadn't followed that, we wouldn't have found her."

Todd also made a Facebook post, in which he praised Lundeen for making a real "life-saving difference."

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
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