1 year later, the search continues

MARSHALL - There is evidence of Brandon Swanson in or near the Yellow Medicine River, it just hasn't been found yet, three local sheriffs said earlier this week.

"There is evidence of him somewhere. We just have to find him somewhere," Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flaten said.

"I can't explain why we haven't found anything," Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Vizecky said. "Recently, a week ago, the river gave up a snapping turtle shell and from a distance of 30 feet that appeared to be a bone. I have a coon skull in my office. I saw a coon skull. I'd have certainly seen a human skull."

The river has given up nothing in the year since Swanson was reported missing. Swanson of Marshall was 19 when a cell phone call with his parents ended abruptly on May 14, 2008. His car was found in a ditch along the Lincoln and Lyon County line road near Taunton. Multiple searches in the past year have focused mainly on areas near the Yellow Medicine River in parts of Lincoln, Lyon and Yellow Medicine counties near Taunton and Porter.

The last official law enforcement-led search was around May 19, 2008, but law enforcement said they've continued to follow up on tips and leads that sometimes include calls to California and elsewhere.

"We continue to explore every opportunity to find him," Vizecky said.

"If we get any information, we follow up on everything. We have to," Mather said.

"There is no indication of foul play," Vizecky said. "Every indication is that some incident put him in peril, but there is no sign or evidence to suggest anything else was involved."

The three sheriffs said their departments have been involved in the case since early after Swanson was reported missing, but the Lyon County Sheriff's Department was the first to be given the missing persons report from Swanson's parents, Brian and Annette of Marshall.

But as the investigation indicated Swanson disappeared in Lincoln County, Vizecky and his department took the lead investigative role.

Swanson had called his parents to tell them his car was in a ditch near Lynd. The Swansons agreed to pick up their son and headed from Marshall toward Lynd.

"The last call to his parents ended about 3:12 a.m. (on May 14)," Vizecky said. Swanson had first called his parents at about1:54 a.m., Vizecky said.

Lyon County was contacted at about 6:29 a.m., Mather said.

The search started near Lynd and while deputies searched, the cell phone company was contacted. Eventually, Swanson's call was traced to a tower in Minneota. Swanson's car had been found in a ditch near Taunton at about 12:30 p.m. May 14, 2008, Mather said.

Lyon County Deputy Eric Wallen said the three hours between the last cell phone call and the missing persons report means three hours were lost in the search for Swanson.

"If (the parents) had called right away, we could have traced the cell phone call to a tower sooner and at least we could have found the car sooner," Wallen said. "We found the car nine hours after that last phone call ended."

DOG USE

When Swanson's car was found, a search dog from Chippewa County was used at the scene.

Wallen said law enforcement secured the car but moved outside the immediate area "so we didn't destroy the scent."

"The first bloodhound did not take," Vizecky said. The dog did not respond to Swanson's scent on an item. The dog did respond later to a second item said to be Swanson's, Vizecky said.

"The dog went to the Yellow Medicine River in Section II of Alta Vista Township," Vizecky said.

A dog team from Codington County, S.D., joined the search May 15.

The dog team indicated interest more north to Porter in Eidsvold Township but also showed interest in Section II of Alta Vista Township, Vizecky said.

"A Codington County cadaver dog on May 22 floated down the river and that dog gave an (interest) at a location southeast of the original dog indicated on May 15. About 600 yards away. And 600 yards in a river bed is about two hours," Vizecky said.

This dog has a history in Lincoln County and has found a body in Lake Benton, Vizecky said. But it had no experience in fast-moving water in a river, Vizecky said.

The search focused on areas of Lincoln County, where the three sheriffs said they still believe Swanson disappeared.

THE YELLOW

MEDICINE RIVER

Vizecky said he walked the river June 2 and the water level is much like it is today.

But the river was high and had overflowed its banks in some locations. Heavy rains fell in the first weeks of Swanson's disappearance which changed the level of the river, the makeup of the river and the landscape surrounding it.

"The terrain is rugged out there," Flaten said. "That river is full of downed trees. Every day the river is different."

"A sand pile that wasn't there yesterday will be there today," Mather said.

"I was walking the river and saw a search dog disappear from sight into a sink hole and then appear again on the other side," Vizecky said.

"Who knows how big those sink holes are," Mather said.

Swanson could have been trapped in a sink hole in the river, they said.

His body might have covered with trees and other debris during the searches. If covered tightly enough, the debris would trap any scent he'd have, Vizecky said.

OTHER SEARCHES

Airplanes and helicopters have also been used in the search.

"We had them fly the tree tops over the river, Mather said. "Jack and I went up outside the original search area."

While deputies and volunteers worked on the physical search, other deputies continued the investigation by talking with Swanson's friends and others and following up on information.

"We interviewed a lot of people, some multiple times," Mather said.

Soon after Swanson was reported missing, his name, DNA and other information was entered into a computer network for missing persons.

"That was right off the bat," Mather said.

The network allows for law enforcement in other areas to be informed of the missing person.

The sheriff's department also had posters of Swanson made that were distributed to law enforcement and others.

"There are a lot of rumors and innuendos out there," Vizecky said. "You follow up on the information you get."

BRANDON'S LAW AND OTHER VOLUNTEER SEARCHES

Swanson's parents have worked with legislators to pass Brandon's Law, which they have said will create a uniform more aggressive response from law enforcement when a young adult or adult in dangerous circumstances disappears.

Mather said Lyon County did what Brandon's law wants law enforcement to do in terms of gathering DNA and other evidence and submitting to a network for missing persons.

The response in Swanson's case was a joint effort, Flaten said.

But law enforcement can only be as aggressive as resources allow, Flaten said.

"We've got limited resources," Flaten said. Local sheriff's departments may have 10, seven or fewer full-time deputies, Flaten said,

The Swanson family has worked with at least two volunteer search coordinators. The most recent coordinator heads a team of volunteers who have worked on various search-and-rescues in Minnesota and elsewhere.

The searches after May 19 have not been headed by any sheriff's department, the three sheriff's said, but they do work with volunteers.

Flaten said the most recent team is searching an area of Yellow Medicine County and is cooperating with the sheriff's department.

Flaten said the team is skilled and has its own method of approaching searches. "...we haven't found Brandon yet, but clearly we are identifying more areas where he's not..."

FUTURE SEARCHES

Vizecky said he can't say for certain if any more law enforcement-led searches will be conducted for Swanson.

Each day Swanson is missing, "it increases the possibility the evidence will be more spread out," Vizecky said.

While he is uncertain of an organized search, law enforcement will continue to monitor the river and continue to investigate, Vizecky said.

"We want to work together to bring this to an end," Mather said.

"There is not one deputy or law enforcement here that does not want to find him," Flaten said.

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