Thursday, February 2, 2023

Petition to dam the river in search of missing Brendan Santo gains traction

January 21, 2022
<p>Flyer for the search of missing Grand Valley State University student, Brendan Santo.</p>

Flyer for the search of missing Grand Valley State University student, Brendan Santo.

On Jan.18, a petition on Change.org was created by Daniel O. to dam the Red Cedar River in the search for missing Grand Valley State University student Brendan Santo. 

“Brendan Santo has been missing since October 29. 2021,” the petition's description states. “His last known location apparently was near the Red Cedar River on MSU campus. The river is dangerous for divers to search due to debris. I urge an immediate temporary damming of the river. This way the search can proceed safely and can either find Brendan Santo or rule out his being there. The water can be diverted to a pond or holding tank with minimal flooding risk. Cut the red tape and dam the river.” 

In 24 hours, the petition reached over 4,500 signatures. 

Michigan State University Police and Public Safety expanded its partnerships with local, state and federal agencies to assist with the investigation. Oakland County and Grand Valley State University agencies are assisting the investigation.

In addition, multiple K9 teams were used early in the investigation, including cadaver dogs. 

Combined with Santo’s digital footprint, investigators continue their focus on the Red Cedar River. 

“Our investigators have been diligent in this investigation,” Rozman said in an email. “They’ve interviewed everyone who last had contact or spoke with Brendan, and they’ve reviewed surveillance cameras. They’ve also utilized advanced investigative techniques. They’ve reviewed cellular telephone data, smartphone data, GPS data.”

MSUPD is working with East Lansing Police Department, Grand Valley State University Police Department, Ingham County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan Department of Attorney General, Michigan State Police, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.

Santo was last seen on Oct. 29, 2021, leaving Yakeley Hall shortly before midnight. It is possible Santo planned to walk approximately a half-mile to the Brody Neighborhood, according to a Nov. 1 MSUPD news release.

Yakeley Hall is located on the north end of MSU’s campus, near Michigan Avenue and Grand River Avenue.

In a Jan. 7 Instagram post, Santo was said to have made it farther down Michigan Avenue, crossing back farther down from Beal Street and towards Brody. 

Santo was not a student at MSU and was visiting friends. However, there is no indication he left the East Lansing area. Santo’s vehicle was left in the last location it was parked.

He was last seen wearing gray sweatpants, a black T-shirt, a black baseball hat and Converse shoes. Santo is five feet, 10 inches and 160 lbs.

Investigators have used sonar, canines and other underwater technology as part of the river search to identify areas of interest in the water.

“The water search is complex and challenging and remains ongoing,” Rozman said in the email. 

Areas of interest have been searched with divers. However, it’s not possible to search the entire river with divers. 

“Challenges of searching the river are the current, depth, visibility, obstacles present, as well as other underwater entanglement hazards,” Rozman said in the email.

MSUPD has consulted with engineers and water experts to determine the search operations’ next steps. Search efforts have since moved downriver to the west, with professional and volunteer search teams.

In November, MSUPD contacted the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy Water Resources Division, or EGLE, regarding damming the river to assist in their search. 

“We were informed that we would need to have a permit from the state to do so, in addition to hiring a private contractor,” MSUPD spokesperson Dana Whyte said.

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However, it would not be possible to dam the entire river, she said. 

“EGLE provided us with companies to contact and we were informed that due to the characteristics of the Red Cedar River such as the current, depth, and visibility … it could be possible to do a partial dam if there was a very specific area to concentrate on,” Whyte said in a Jan. 19 email to The State News.

At this point, MSUPD doesn’t have a definitive area of interest in the river. 

“We continue to walk the river banks and search as resources are available," Whyte said. "If we do identify any particular areas in the future, we will reassess the option of damming that specific portion of the river.” 

A dinner and silent auction are planned for Feb. 26 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Rochester Adams High School to raise awareness for Santo. 

The State Flyer Challenge is also raising awareness by spreading flyers in all 50 states. In addition, the College Flyer Challenge aims to have flyers in all Michigan colleges. 

At this point, there are flyers in every state and in Canada. Out of the 88 listed Michigan colleges, 25% have flyers. 

The Bring Brendan Santo Home Facebook group has reached over 45,000 members, with members in 12 other countries. 

"Our family started the Bring Brendan Santo Home Facebook as soon as we found out he was missing. We knew we needed to raise awareness," Dawn Brewer, Santo's aunt, said. "Our family continues to be overwhelmed by their support and dedication. ... We have started to raise awareness for other missing people."

Since Nov. 9, the GoFundMe organized by Melissa Corsi for Santo’s family has collected more than $120,000 in donations.

The funds will be used to hire private entities to help increase search efforts, print flyers, help with family costs incurred due to absence from work and traveling between East Lansing and home, feed volunteers and notify additional publications to get the word out about Santo, including billboard signs.

“We are in constant contact with the Santo family and are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time,” Rozman said in the email. “It’s important that when we do our jobs, we always carry a level of hope and not make any assumptions. We are doing everything we can to find Brendan.”

If you have any information, call MSUPD toll-free at 844-99-MSUPD or email tips@police.msu.edu. You can also contact Crime Stoppers of Mid-Michigan at 517-483-STOP.

The reward managed by Crime Stoppers of Mid-Michigan through MSUPD’s toll-free tip line and tip email has increased from $20,000 to $30,000. 

“People do not just vanish,” Brewer said in a statement. “Our family will remain hopeful that we will find Brendan and bring him home.” 

For resources, the MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, is available 24/7 by calling 517-355-8270. The MSU Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, is also available by calling 517-355-4506.

Students at Grand Valley State University can also contact their University Counseling Center at 616-331-3266.



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