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Police Opt for Focused Searches in Hunt for Missing Woman

Aired December 8, 2003 - 15:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN watching and wating in Grand Forks. Jeff brings us the latest live from North Dakota -- Jeff.
JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Kyra, we are standing by for a press conference. They usually start pretty well on time. And it looks like it's 2 p.m., Central Time, straight up here.

I don't expect we're going to get a whole lot of earth shattering news today. I do think they're going to clarify the point about the searches. The message sort of got sent out that perhaps their searching was over and it was left to the family. I don't think that's necessarily a message that they want to have.

I suspect what we'll hear is they have some targeted areas, because they've got 1,400 plus, as of last count, leads that have come in. And perhaps, as we talk here, Rick, maybe you can give us a sense of the room filling up here. Fourteen-hundred or so leads that have come into the phone lines. And I suspect that they have a number of areas that that has caused them to look at, and they're going to do that in a much more focused fashion. We may get some sense of what that is.

But I think the other headline, Kyra, is that there isn't any kind of a hot search area. The family was out today at about 25 minutes or maybe 25 miles to the north and east of here. It was based on a tip that came into their web site, somebody suggesting that perhaps Mr. Rodriguez, that's Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., the man who has been charged in connection with the abduction of Dru Sjodin, that he had either worked or known that area.

And so they went out with ATVs and on foot, in some cases, today to check that area out. At last report, they had not found anything. Of course, that would be only the latest search that hadn't found anything.

I see as we speak here now, Captain Mike Kirby of the Grand Forks Police Department approach the podium. And so we'll see what he has to say in terms of clarification.

CAPT. MIKE KIRBY, GRAND FORKS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Good afternoon. Thank you for being here once again.

To date there are in excess of 1,480 tips or leads that have been developed and are continuing to be reviewed, prioritized and investigated by the law enforcement agencies working on this investigation. This morning, on Monday the 8th of December, representatives of the core law enforcement agencies that are involved in this investigation took the opportunity to review, evaluate and prioritize the law enforcement efforts, not only over the last few days, but what we hope to be able to accomplish in the coming days.

The United States Border Patrol presented a very detailed overview of the search efforts of the past few days indicating which areas had been covered by what types of means. For example, they were able to show us what's been covered by aircraft, what's been covered by walkers, by individuals on ATVs, horseback, canine search teams. So it gave us a good overview of the efforts to this point.

As a result of that, the Grand Forks County sheriff's office and the Polk County sheriff's office will be evaluating and determining what types of additional searches will be done in the coming days. Some of those efforts may begin this afternoon. And they may also begin tomorrow.

It will be a combination of law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other trained and equipped personnel.

The Grand Forks Fire Department and the East Grand Forks Fire Department will assist in those areas adjacent to their communities, and they will also assist in coordinating regional volunteer fire departments to help in the outlying areas. The respective sheriff's offices will work very closely with the family to assist and also to coordinate their efforts.

At this time, there are no plans for any use of non-sworn volunteers. However, as the sheriff's departments review their plans and look at the areas that they want to look at once again, if there is a need for non-sworn volunteers, they'll make a release through the media and get that information out.

I know I've said this many times over, but it is very important to us. We want to continue to stress the importance of landowners checking their properties. If by chance there's someone who a neighbor knows is out of town for a period of time, make some arrangements, if you can, to gain the permission to get onto their property and search their property.

By the same token, if there's farm families out there who for some reason or another are unable to do these searches, we certainly encourage them to contact their local law enforcement office or their sheriff's department to see if they can obtain assistance from law enforcement to complete these searches.

We also want to ask managers of construction sites and managers of industrial sites to take a little bit of time out today, put your people together in a team and go over your property. If you find anything out of the ordinary, and this goes for the farmers as well as the hunters or whoever might be out and about today, as well as the construction site managers and the industrial site managers, if you find anything out of the ordinary we're asking that you please do not touch it. That you simply leave it in place, contact your respective law enforcement agency, and we will come out or that agency will come out and review that material.

I want to remind you that there is a $140,000 reward for any information regarding the abduction of Dru Sjodin. Grand Forks Police Department and the assisting agencies greatly appreciate the assistance of local, regional and national media. You've played a very important role to us of getting this information out and helping us continue to keep this before the public.

Likewise, the law enforcement agencies involved would like to thank the citizens of our region. They've definitely shown what it means to live in the Midwest. They've come out and helped us when we've needed them. They've done a fantastic job. We appreciate their assistance and any assistance that they might give us into the future.

Again, I want to remind you that anyone with new information -- new information, I would like to emphasize -- regarding the abduction of Dru Sjodin is encouraged to conduct their local law enforcement agency, or they may call the Grand Forks Police Department at 701-787- 8000.

Once again, as I've said before, law enforcement officers will be reviewing all additional leads or tip information that may come in. They'll look at those, prioritize them and get them out to investigators so that they can work those.

I'll try a couple questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Captain Kirby, is the resumption of searches the result of any new information that's come into the tip line or new leads that have been developed, or is this just a backlog of stuff that you're now getting to?

KIRBY: I think all throughout the weekend, I guess I should say, we have still been receiving tips and receiving lead information. And that tip information, those leads, have been looked at by officers over the weekend. And there no doubt were occasions where officers may have gone out and done minor law enforcement only searches.

What we needed the opportunity to do was to sit down and get a good overview of what had already been done. That's where once again I want to compliment the United States Border Patrol. They did a fantastic job for us by being able to plot that information out on the map so we could visually see where we've been and where we need to place some emphasis.

So that's what we're taking the opportunity to do now. Re- evaluate, reprioritize and go back out into the field.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the snow going to hamper you at all?

KIRBY: Is the snow going to hamper us at all? I think it's only logical to assume that if you have snow cover that we did not have early on in this search effort, certainly there is going to be some degree of hampering of the effort.

But by the same token, the types of searches that we're going to be doing at this particular point in time are very targeted, I guess, for lack of a better term. We've had the opportunity to look where we've been. And now those agencies, the respective sheriff's departments, will get out and look at those targeted areas.

So hampered from the perspective of snow cover, but at the same time we're going to be looking at specific areas. So we'll be able to did a more detailed job in those areas, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you don't find something, you kind of jack up the search. Why, when you haven't found it, is the search kind of being scaled back? Could you expand a little more on that?

KIRBY: Well, I would disagree with the characterization that we've scaled back. I would just re-emphasize what I've already said. We're prioritizing, looking at what we've already done.

It's cold outside. It's going to get colder. There are safety issues that are associated with that. And I think we have to be realists. We cannot walk the entire grounds of Grand Forks County or the entire grounds of Polk County. We have to look, prioritize and be as effective as we can be with the personnel we're going to put in the field.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The family is obviously...

PHILLIPS: Captain Mike Kirby of the Grand Forks Police Department, briefing reporters there on the investigation, now on its 16th day, into the disappearance of Dru Sjodin, that missing college student.

A couple of thoughts as we bring in our Mike Brooks, our law enforcement analyst.

First thing that caught my attention, asking construction workers and farmers and hunters, if you come across anything, leave it alone but let us know. Is that...

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think they're making sure that they cross all their "T's" and dot all their "I's" and make sure nothing goes, you know, overlooked.

Farmers, people with vacant property, those kind of things, they're still going -- some people are still going on the assumption that, No. 1, she's still alive. We've talked to investigators, we've interviewed investigators over the past 16 days. Some of them say the longer it goes, the less likely it is that they find her alive. I think people are still holding out hope that they will. You know, they go back to the Elizabeth Smart case.

Now whoever is responsible for the disappearance of Dru Sjodin, whether it be Rodriguez, who they do say allegedly kidnapped her and is responsible for that, maybe he or someone else, if someone else is involved in this case, has taken her someone and put her somewhere. I think that's what they're trying to do.

They're holding out hope, but they still want to make sure that all these pieces of property are searched, vacant pieces of property. In this part of the country, there are a lot of outbuildings. They want to make sure all that's covered.

They've talked about their searches by the border patrol. And now they're looking to evaluate all the different leads and tips that come in and prioritize where they're going to search next.

Very, very tough area up there with the weather moving in. We see the snow on the ground. We've seen the snow every time Jeff Flock does a report. Very, very tough conditions to do a search in. And he was talking about the safety of the searchers.

So again, I think they're moving their searches to kind of another areas. Places that had not been looked, they want to make sure nothing is overlooked at all. But again, in hopes of finding Dru Sjodin alive.

PHILLIPS: How does the cold weather like this and snow affect evidence? I mean, you know, you were a detective for a number of years.

BROOKS: Well, it's difficult finding evidence, especially when you have snow cover. I mean, that just goes without saying. But then again, if preservation of evidence, this cold weather is good, if there is evidence out there.

But finding any other evidence that might be involved in this under snow cover, frozen ponds and lakes. We saw divers in one river, apparently, that they were looking at before. When she disappeared the river was not frozen; now it's frozen over.

But then we go back -- you know, we're wondering. And I'd be anxious to see and hear about any kind of evidence that they were able to glean from her car, from his car, any kind of trace evidence.

PHILLIPS: Because they say they're focusing on that now, solely on that?

BROOKS: Exactly. And they had to have enough evidence to obtain an arrest warrant for him. They had to have enough probable cause. That has been sealed. We've not heard what kind of evidence they do have against Alfonso Rodriguez to say exactly what they have on him. So we don't know what they have against Mr. Rodriguez.

And we heard early on the Grand Forks police chief talking and saying that the interviews with Mr. Rodriguez were going well and that they thought they were progressing along very well. How far that has gotten, how much information they've been able to get from that, we still don't know.

PHILLIPS: Still don't know.

Mike Brooks, thank you.


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