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Wisonsin Girl Found Alive After 4 Day Search

Aired March 31, 2004 - 15:58   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Two stories we're following for you right now here on CNN. One from Capitol Hill, but first to Madison, Wisconsin, where 20-year-old University of Wisconsin Madison student Audrey Seiler has been found alive.
She was found alive in a marsh area just two miles east of the University of Wisconsin Madison. And, right now, police there in Madison, along with sheriff's deputies, the ERT team, with the search dogs, looking for a man they believe to be armed and dangerous in this area just feet away from where Audrey Seiler was discovered alive.

Jonathan Freed out of our Chicago bureau following this story for us.

Bring us up to date, Jonathan.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, I can tell you that WTMJ TV in Milwaukee -- and the AP has picked this up as well -- they are reporting that Audrey Seiler has told police that she was held against her will by an armed man, and that this man had a gun and a knife. This is the first indication that I'm aware of that we're hearing details that are coming from Audrey Seiler herself since she was found and then taken to hospital.

We've been watching these pictures now for the last hour or so. We see police dogs combing the area where it appears as though police have got a suspect. The wire copy I'm holding here also says that officers on the ground have used a bullhorn to tell the suspect to surrender, and, of course, also have police dogs at the scene.

So we are waiting to see whether or not bears out. But we've seen various levels of activity. We've seen officers crouching down with guns drawn, at other times they seem a lot more relaxed. Looking at the pictures now it's unclear to tell exactly what state they're at.

PHILLIPS: Jonathan Freed of our Chicago bureau. Thank you. Mike Brooks, our law enforcement analyst, interesting, if they're using the bull horn, more than likely they believe the suspect is definitely in that area very close to them hiding somewhere and they're trying to negotiate him to get out of there?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: At least they hope they do. Before you send in K-9s, especially in large areas like that, you usually tell them, "If you're in there come out with your hands up, or we're going to send the dogs in." That sounds like they do believe that someone is within that area that they have cordoned off. Again, these are taped pictures from our affiliate WITI that we saw just a short time ago. We've seen these police officers move down along the building line. And along with the K-9 dog, and try to I guess narrow the search area, if you will, as the dog has moved down to the more wooded area that we saw a little bit earlier that is right next to this marshy area.

PHILLIPS: We do have a helicopter en route. We're going to be able to bring you live pictures pretty soon as soon as they get closer to the scene. The story sort of unfolded here on CNN within the past hour, we had gotten word that 20-year-old Audrey Seiler was found alive, was found in this marsh area two miles outside of her college, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A passerby came across her, noticed that something was not right, contacted police immediately. They responded evidently, Audrey was brought out on a stretcher, taken straight to St. Mary's hospital. She was brought together with her parents. Police said that her condition was "fine."

Obviously a lot going through her mind right now. She has managed, according to affiliates out of Milwaukee, to talk to police. And then police reporting or talking to the police -- she talked to police. Police talked with our affiliates out of there, telling us that she was able to tell police that a man had approached her with a gun and a knife, held her against her will. But she has been found alive.

Now police, with the search dogs looking for a suspect they believe to be holed up in this area, possibly somewhere. A number of different businesses, hotels in this area located close to the marsh where she was found. One suspect they say are looking for believed to be armed and dangerous.

Meanwhile, police are also looking into; by the way we are waiting for a live news conference that could happen at any moment. We're going to bring that to you also as soon as it happens. We are monitoring that. But another thing, too, with regard to Audrey Seiler; police are trying to determine whether her disappearance has anything to do with someone who attacked her near her apartment back in February.

She was hit from behind by an unknown attacker, knocked unconscious and then this past Saturday she disappeared. And that was reported to police, but now, four days later, the good news is, the 20-year-old has been found alive.

Our Mike Brooks has been working this story with his sources, also, telling us a little bit about the investigation. We also have pictures via our affiliate KMSP where police outside of the area that you're looking at now continue to secure the area with the yellow tape. Obviously armed and ready to take on any situation that may occur. They believe the suspect held up or holed up in this area. Mike you're getting some information?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, we've heard from spokesperson, a police spokesperson, that apparently two officers are going to go up in a helicopter with a thermal imaging device. They're waiting on the helicopter right now and that thermal imaging device will help them to see whether or not there's any heat signatures in those bushes in that wooded area.

Again, it's a safer way, even with the dogs, is still a safer way to cover a larger area. A number of helicopters here in Atlanta, and some police helicopters in the Washington, DC area are equipped with the thermal imagers. But sometimes you can go up and use a handheld thermal imager. That sounds exactly like what they're going to be doing here in Madison. Send two officers up, cover a whole large area in that search grid where they're looking right now and use a thermal imager.

What that will do, Kyra is it will see if there's any heat sources within that area, in the bushes, hiding behind the bushes down along the line of the marsh which is where the search right now is concentrated. We are hearing that they're waiting for a helicopter for two officers, waiting -- they're going to use a thermal imaging device in hopes of finding who is responsible for the disappearance of Audrey Seiler.

PHILLIPS: Mike, I wish we had pictures to show our viewers. I've been in those police helicopters before and I've seen the infrared device and it's just incredible. If, indeed, a body were under a car, in a house, behind a tree, it's amazing how this device can pick up that heat source and immediately you can identify a body.

BROOKS: Oh, it's great. It's used by both police and fire department. Fire department you can find if you go into a building, and you're looking for someone inside a building, if someone's trapped, you can use that. If you're looking at a building collapse you can use it to look through void spaces. As you come in and have a smell of odor of something in a house you think is on fire, they can use this looking for hot spots. The technology that law enforcement and the fire personnel have available to them right now is just incredible. And these things do work-again, another great tool.

But they are waiting for two officers to go up in the helicopter with this thermal imager to try to locate and see if anyone is, in fact, in this area of where they're searching.

PHILLIPS: And you were saying as we were looking at these pictures, coming to us via WITI, that the dog was sort of jumping around in different directions. Tell our viewers how -- it's pretty difficult, especially when the wind is shifting, to follow a scent or possibly get on the trail of somebody because of the weather conditions or possibly -- tell us how the dog can get a little confused, a little distracted.

BROOKS: Again, K-9s are a fantastic tool of law enforcement. They're used for seeks such as this. They're used for narcotics for seeking narcotics, for explosives. In this particular one, they're looking for a person. And you can put a dog out if you have some kind of -- if you have a piece of clothing, any kind of item that you think could be belonging to the perpetrator, you let the dog get a good scent and then send that dog to see if they can get a -- pick up a trail. Or if they don't have it, which looks like possibly in this particular case, they were sending the dog into an area where they believed someone may be hiding, but it could be if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, if they can't pick up a scent, then the dog could be thrown off.

But again, all it takes is just one gust of wind, and the dog can smell someone from yards and yards away. The dog's noses are just incredible. They're a great, great tool of law enforcement.

PHILLIPS: Alright, our Mike Brooks, law enforcement analyst continuing to follow this story with us. If you are just tuning in, a story unfolding right here live on CNN. 20-year-old Audrey Seiler, the University of Wisconsin-Madison student has been found alive. She's been found alive right here in a marsh area just about two miles east of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been missing since Saturday.

This is what we know: that police do believe there is an armed suspect in the area right now. They are planning, strategizing, getting various emergency response teams together. They've been looking at their maps, plotting out the area, getting familiar with the area. Securing the area and taking different teams, ERT teams out into certain secured areas with the search dogs. Looking for the suspect they do believe could be still somewhere in this area.

Meanwhile, Audrey is told to be in good condition. She's at St. Mary's hospital with her parents. She's been able to talk to police according to some of our affiliates out in Milwaukee, in the Milwaukee area. Jonathan Freed, who works out of our bureau in Chicago, has been able to monitor what is coming from those affiliates. Jonathan, what are you hearing? What has Audrey been able to tell police thus far?

FREED: Well, Kyra, according to WTMJ TV, which, you're right, is in Milwaukee, she said that she was held against her will by an armed man and she said that the man had a gun and a knife. So again that's coming from WTMJ TV in Milwaukee.

Audrey Seiler according to them and the AP, telling police that she was held against her will by an armed man who had a gun and a knife. I'm sure police are going to be very interested to see who the suspect is, if they do indeed take somebody into custody today because yesterday at the news conference one of the things that they pointed out was that they had several hundred known offenders -- that was the term they used -- in the Madison area and that they were systematically, methodically going through and trying to contact them and interview them one by one and they said because of the sheer volume of people and names that they had, it was, of course taking them awhile.

They were devoting a considerable amount of resources to do that. I'm sure they're very anxious to know whether or not the person that may be there right now is somebody that they had on the list.

PHILLIPS: Jonathan Freed in the Chicago bureau continuing to follow this breaking news story as it unfolds right here on CNN. Once again the good news: 20-year-old Audrey Seiler has been found alive. Meanwhile, right now police searching this area with the K-9s and the emergency teams trying to find an armed suspect they believe is hiding out in this area. We're on that story, we're going to take a quick break and be right back.


PHILLIPS: A breaking news story we continue to follow on CNN. 20-year-old Audrey Seiler, the missing University of Wisconsin-Madison student has been found alive. She's at the hospital, St. Mary's hospital there in Madison with her parents. We're told she's in good condition.

Meanwhile right now police there in Madison, sheriff's deputies, a number of emergency response teams, along with the K-9s searching for what they believe is an armed suspect here in this area not far from the marshy area where she was found alive.

A passerby just happened to come through this area, knows there wasn't something quite right about the situation. Sure enough it was Audrey. They were able to call for an ambulance. The suspect fled the scene.

Now police believe the suspect still in the area, they have been using the bullhorn to try to make contact. They've got the K-9s throughout this area.

Also, I'm being told a helicopter has been launched with a couple of police officers with an infrared device. Actually, a pretty outstanding device that law enforcement officials use in situations like this that is able to pick up hot spots in the area so if, indeed the suspect is hiding somewhere in that area, police have a pretty good chance of spotting where could be with the thermal imaging device.

This infrared system that they use to locate hot spots, specifically, when searching for suspects that are, of course, trying to evade police. Jonathan Freed, working the story also outside of our Chicago bureau, he's been able to monitor what Audrey Seiler has been able to tell police. Police telling local affiliates there out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Jonathan bring us up to date on what you know and any new information you might have.

FREED: Well, the one nugget of new information that I have is that the helicopter that the two officers have boarded with the thermal imaging device is apparently the WTMJ helicopter. And it's interesting you were talking about how you've seen this type of equipment in action and I have, as well.

I've seen the U.S. Border Patrol using it along the California/Mexico border. And it is astonishingly effective even in broad daylight. You would think the sun and the heat being reflected from the ground might obscure the technology. But it doesn't, this thing can be razor accurate, pinpoint accurate. And if they are bringing that up there, then if there's somebody in the area, based on what I have seen in my experience with this kind of technology, then they're probably going to see. If there's a warm body there, they'll see it.

PHILLIPS: Alright, Jonathan Freed working this out of our Chicago bureau. Meanwhile, we continue to get information out of Milwaukee, also Madison. I am being told that one of our affiliates just moments ago happened to talk with Audrey Seiler's roommate's mother. This is what she had to say via our affiliate KMSP out of Minnesota.

JANE THUE, AUDREY SEILER'S ROOMMATE'S MOTHER: They came in and said they'd found her, and then they said she was alive and everyone's cheering and jumping up and down and everybody rushed outside to see and evidently they found her just outside here like a couple blocks away.

QUESTION: Was she hurt? Was she okay?

THUE: She's okay. They've taken her to the hospital. The immediate family--and they took Heather with them, and they're checking her out. They are...

QUESTION: Was she walking? Was she unconscious?

THUE: We have no clue her condition or anything, but they said she was okay and that's a miracle.

QUESTION: What'd she say?

THUE: No one knows. They haven't told us anything like that.

QUESTION: What's still going on out here? Is there a suspect? Was there someone with her?

THUE: Mmm-hmm. There's suspects out there. They have a lot of police that were at a retirement party at the downtown office for the Chief of Police or whatever and they all came rushing to the scene and I guess there's tons of people out there.

QUESTION: You said it's a miracle.

THUE: It is a miracle. It's an absolute miracle. We never gave up faith and everyone has been absolutely wonderful. Everyone has pulled together. The police are wonderful.

PHILLIPS: Obviously pretty emotional testimony there from those who are close to Audrey Seiler. That was actually the mother of Audrey Seiler's roommate there in college and what's so ironic is she's there at the command post where all the volunteers and family members were gathering to try and find Audrey Seiler, not far, actually, from where she was located alive, a marsh area just two miles east of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She was found in the marshy area, a passerby happened to see that something just wasn't right, reported it to police. She was immediately taken to the hospital. She's with her parents in good condition.

Meanwhile, right now, police continue to search for what they believe is an armed suspect in the area. You're looking at live pictures now via our affiliate WKOW. You've got Madison police, you have sheriff's deputies, a number of emergency response teams, you can obviously see here getting ready to conduct a search.

I'm going to bring Mike Brooks in here for a minute, our law enforcement analyst. I'm seeing some guys in camis there behind him suited up with what appears to be backpacks and camping gear. Are they going to be going into this marshy area expecting maybe a bit of a long haul of a search trying to find the suspect?

BROOKS: They very well could be. They could also be the ones who are going to be doing the searching up in helicopter. We don't know right now. Thermal imagers aren't that big. A lot of them are handheld. Some of them are -- they call them FLIRs -- are a little bit larger than that.

But, again, this looks like the command post. We just talk about how close she was found. I just find it so ironic here that she was found that close to where the 90 people from her home town of Rockford, Minnesota, and her parents had set up their command post with the searchers.

You know, I just think it's amazing, and you know, I'd say that the person who saw her, and if this person was armed, that that person probably is very lucky that the perpetrator didn't attempt to do something harmful to that person. And again, we don't know and hopefully we'll find out in the near future why that person did not harm Audrey Seiler. But she's very, very lucky to be alive.

PHILLIPS: You bring up a good point talking about the FLIR, we should tell our viewers about this device. You see them so many times on these police helicopters, the little bubble on the bottom. Amazing infrared device that picks out these hot spots, so if indeed this suspect is hiding somewhere in this area, more than likely that FLIR is going to pick up his hot spot. Pick him up wherever he's hiding.

BROOKS: Absolutely. Even during the day time. At nighttime they're very effective too at seeing through the dark, but it's also like night vision. You can see night vision. They also show a heat outline. It's darker, the color, the more heat there is.

Many times in helicopters even if someone who the police are chasing pulls into an alley and tries to lay down in the back seat or locks himself in the trunk they can see from that heat signature under the hood if the cars been run hard and if anyone is in the area where they're searching they'll definitely be able to see if there's any kind of heat signature at all within that wooded area.

PHILLIPS: Good news, 20-year-old Audrey Seiler, the missing student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been found alive. Right now, police looking for the armed suspect believed to be somewhere in this area, just a couple miles from the university. The story that we're following. We're going to take a quick break, we'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: 20-year-old university of Wisconsin-Madison student Audrey Seiler found alive. She was found just two miles from the university in a marshy area. A passerby happened to notice her, contacted police. She's at St. Mary's hospital with her parents. Reportedly in good condition. Meanwhile, police right now searching for an armed suspect in this area not far from where she was found alive. Ellen Galles with our affiliate KMSP out of Minnesota has also been following the story from the ground. She brings us this report.

ELLEN GALLES, KMSP CORRESPONDENT: As you can see behind me, police still have this area, the perimeter set up along this area. We haven't seen a lot of activity here within the past couple minutes. You can probably still see officers crouched with their weapons poised. That has pretty much been the situation for the past hour and a half here.

Meanwhile, family and friends from Rockford, Minnesota are inside the hotel lobby of the Holiday Inn just about a block away from me right now, probably watching all of this coverage on TV right now. Very happy, and learning details right alongside with us. We understand that Audrey is at St. Mary's hospital in Madison here and she's with her family right now. We haven't heard any details about her condition. We understand she had minor injuries. One report was that she was walking in the marshy area behind me when she was found. That hasn't been confirmed yet. But that would suggest that she had no major injuries if she was able to walk through the marshy area here behind me.

PHILLIPS: Ellen Galles with our affiliate KMSP out of Minnesota following that story for us in Madison. Did Audrey Seiler know her abductor or not? It's a question we're still asking. We don't know. Police have not informed us on the individual that they are searching for.

Right now we are being told that Audrey did tell police that the suspect did have a gun, did have a knife, held her against her will. We actually have surveillance tape of when she left her apartment on Saturday without her purse, without her coat. She had been missing for four days. Now she's been found alive.

Police right now, you can see the pictures via WITI, shot not long ago with emergency response team members and the K-9 on the trail looking for the man believed to be holed up in this area, believed to be armed and dangerous. Police also trying to determine whether Seiler's disappearance has anything to do with someone who might have attacked her near her apartment back in February.

She was hit from behind by an unknown attacker and knocked unconscious. And then just four days ago, she had disappeared. But now, found alive. These pictures coming to us via our affiliate WKOW. We continue to follow this story. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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