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Search for Dru

Aired December 4, 2003 - 07:05   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go now to North Dakota, where the man who is suspected of kidnapping a 22-year-old college student will be in court to hear the charge against him. Meanwhile, the search for Dru Sjodin continues.
CNN's Jeff Flock reports from Grand Forks, North Dakota.


JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Trudging through snow banks, across frozen hillsides and country roads they came, 1,700 strong, to search for Dru Sjodin. But when they were done scanning the grid maps and picking through the underbrush, there was nothing -- that, while the man authorities think knows what happened to her went to court. Alfonso Rodriguez, hood up over his head, agreeing to be transferred to North Dakota to answer charges he kidnapped the 22-year-old college senior.

Is Rodriguez cooperating?

SGT. MIKE HEDLUND, GRAND FORKS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I'm afraid I can't discuss that right now.

FLOCK: Does DNA evidence in his car link him to Sjodin?

HEDLUND: I can't discuss that.

FLOCK: Was he on any surveillance cameras at this mall where Dru disappeared?

HEDLUND: I can't discuss that either, I'm sorry.

FLOCK: Prosecutors did try to explain why a twice-convicted sexual predator was set free.

GREG WIDSETH, POLK COUNTY PROSECUTOR: He's a gentleman that served his sentence to expiration. His only requirements after that are complying with the registration law, and he's done that.

FLOCK: Rodriguez did register that he was living here at his mother's house in Crookston, Minnesota, and had his picture on a sexual predator Web site when he was released in May -- though, note the change in hair color on his mug shot taken this week. A family friend says the possibility of Rodriguez committing another crime was on his family's mind.

KEN MENDEZ, RODRIGUEZ FAMILY FRIEND: It was a huge concern. FLOCK: Authorities say they don't plan another big search like this one. Many fear that with a suspect in custody and no Dru, they may be searching as much for a body as for clues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work at the university and I love the students, and so I hope we find her.


FLOCK: Soledad, Mr. Rodriguez is in the Grand Forks County lockup. That's just across from the police station there behind me. His court appearance today is 1:30 local time, 2:30 Eastern -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Rodriguez has an attorney now. Has that attorney said if his client is talking to police, being helpful in any way?

FLOCK: The attorney hasn't been heard from. Authorities yesterday confirmed that Mr. Rodriguez, in fact, had been interviewed, but they would say absolutely nothing about what he said. And there is every indication that he hasn't given them much of anything.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jeff Flock for us this morning. Jeff, thanks.

The disappearance of Due Sjodin has struck a nerve in Grand Forks, North Dakota. A little bit earlier this morning, I spoke with the mayor of Grand Forks, Dr. Michael Brown, and asked him why he believes this is the case.


DR. MICHAEL BROWN, MAYOR, GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA: I think this has struck at the very heart of our community, because she represents the people that we have in our universities and in our city. And so I think you cannot live with yourself if you don't reach out to help this family and help locate Dru and bring her home to her family. I think she exemplifies what we are as a community.

O'BRIEN: Have you been surprised the degree to which people have come out to help?

BROWN: I have been encouraged, and a very warm feeling about how our community has responded. And I think we're all parents and we're all in this together, and we have to support Dru's family as we would expect our families to be supported if that was us. We couldn't live with ourselves if we didn't do the most we could to bring her back to her family.

O'BRIEN: Some of the searchers have said they believe that they are looking for a body at this point, not a live human being. Are you more optimistic than that?

BROWN: Well, I think as mayor and as a father, we have to be optimistic. We have to be positive, and we have to stay focused on bringing her back to her family. And I think to hope is human, and that's what makes us special.

O'BRIEN: Talk a little bit about Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. He is a level 3 sex offender. We've heard many reporters describe that. But what does that actually mean in your state?

BROWN: I think it means you're likely to offend again -- a high likelihood you'll offend again.

O'BRIEN: So, he was a registered sex offender. He was a repeat offender. How then do you go about protecting the people where you live from someone like this person?

BROWN: Well, that will be a situation that we've dealt with after we've recovered -- bring Dru home to her family.

O'BRIEN: You want to wait until this young woman is recovered before you start pursuing that angle?

BROWN: Right. I think we have to stay focused right now as a community on bringing her home. That's a positive thing, and that keeps the community motivated.

O'BRIEN: The Columbia mall, which is where Dru was last seen, we are told that they are now re-examining their security policies there. Is the city of Grand Forks doing a similar thing? Has this led you to sort of rethink security across the board?

BROWN: Of course. When this happens, it really makes us re-look at everything that we do and look for problems with security on bike paths and on parking malls -- parking lots and schools. And it really makes us re-look at everything. Because this is such a tragic event, we cannot live with ourselves if we don't look at ways to make this not happen again.

O'BRIEN: How deep is the anger in your community at Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr.? He's wearing a bulletproof vest, we saw as he was coming out of the court. And I'm curious to know if that's just standard operating procedure, or if you think the anger is so deep that you think someone is going to try to kill him?

BROWN: Well, I think there is a lot of anger and frustration with the system, and so I think that it is prudent to be cautious in this. But there is a lot of anger in our community towards this gentleman.


O'BRIEN: The mayor of Grand Forks, Dr. Michael Brown.


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