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Hundreds expected to search for missing student

Father: 'Honey, we are going to find you'

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was arrested Monday on a kidnapping charge.
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was arrested Monday on a kidnapping charge.

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A convicted rapist is in custody, suspected of kidnapping student Dru Sjodin. CNN's Jeff Flock reports.
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Family members react as the search for missing college student Dru Sjodin goes on in North Dakota.
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(CNN) -- Wednesday is going to be a "very important day" in the search for a 22-year-old North Dakota student who has been missing for 10 days, said the Grand Forks, North Dakota, police chief.

Despite an arrest in the case, finding her is the No. 1 goal, said Police Chief John Packett.

"We estimate up to 1,500 citizens will be bused to Grand Forks from as far away as the Twin Cities in Minnesota and Fargo to assist in the search. I think that's unprecedented in a situation like this and it certainly shows the community interest in this case," he said.

Dru Sjodin has been missing since November 22, when she was last seen leaving work at a Grand Forks shopping mall. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a 50-year-old man who served time in prison for rape, was arrested Monday night in nearby Crookston, Minnesota, on a kidnapping charge.

"Our community is a safer place this morning," Packett said during an earlier news conference.

"With the arrest of last night, this investigation has only reached the 50-yard line," Packett said. "As additional charges and information becomes available, we will not be satisfied or comforted until such time as we find Dru."

Police released photographs Tuesday of Sjodin's 1994 red Oldsmobile Cutlass with a primer-gray front fender on the driver's side and of Rodriguez's maroon-colored 2002 Mercury Sable in hopes of jogging the memory of anyone who might have spotted the vehicles around the time of her disappearance.

Her family appealed to the public to keep searching and told the missing woman not to give up hope.

"Honey, we are still looking for you. We know you're there. Our strength is drawn from you," said Sjodin's father, Allan Sjodin.

"What we want is everyone to continue doing what they're doing, just like these folks are saying. Check shelter belts, buildings, check everything. We want information. We have the strength. We will continue. Honey, we are going to find you."

"We are a strong family, and we know she is out there," said her brother, Sven Sjodin. "She is a strong girl. I know we are just right around the corner from you, Dru. If you're watching TV right now, you have a bunch things to say, and we'll see you in a while. We love you."

Rodriguez was released from a Minnesota prison in May after serving a nearly 23-year sentence for rape, kidnapping and assault. An extradition hearing in the case in Crookston, about 25 miles southeast of Grand Forks, was postponed until Wednesday.

State's Attorney Peter Welte said investigators can place Rodriguez not only in Grand Forks at the time Sjodin disappeared, but also in the parking lot of the shopping center where she worked.

"We do have probable cause that he was in Grand Forks at that time and that he was in the parking lot," Welte said.

Rodriguez was convicted of raping two women, and his name appears on Minnesota's sexual predator list as someone with "a history of sexual contact and attempted kidnapping with adult females."

The list, maintained by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, reports convictions for rape, aggravated assault and attempted kidnapping on his record.

Megan Murphy, Sjodin's roommate, said the arrest was "obviously some good news."

"I think it makes everybody feel a little bit better -- that at least we're finding something and it could lead us to her, help us find her," she told CNN's "American Morning."

More than 1,000 volunteers have been out in the cold and snow around Grand Forks to search for Sjodin, whose disappearance has shocked a community known for its low crime rate. Searchers cut holes in the frozen Red Lake River, near Crookston, and sent divers down to look for clues in a body of water that was not iced over when Sjodin was last seen.

Hans Tweed, a friend involved in the search effort, said investigators are looking for "pretty much anything" that might lead them to the missing woman -- "any kind of evidence, clothing, receipts."

Sjodin was last seen leaving work at a Victoria's Secret store in a mall. Her car never left the parking lot. Friends contacted police after she failed to show up at a second job that night and after an alarming phone call with her boyfriend that was cut short. In that call, friends say, her last words were, "No, no, no, OK, OK, OK."

Authorities have concentrated the search around a rest area just seven miles from the mall, where police traced a second call from Sjodin's cell phone to her boyfriend. This time no words were exchanged, but authorities were able to trace the call to within four miles of a cell phone tower.

Authorities have said the second call came about three hours after the first call.

Police also had investigated calls to Sjodin at the Victoria's Secret store, including at least one that a colleague said was the voice of a man with a foreign accent.

Authorities say anyone with information about the case should call (701) 780-8213.


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