Eighteen-year old Dan Zamlen, a freshman at the University of St. Thomas left a party hosted by classmates near the St. Thomas campus, reportedly upset about something. He was walking along Mississippi River Blvd near St. Clair Avenue on a trail. The trail had a grassy area next to it and then a wooded slope. He said he was headed to the University of Minnesota to meet some friends and was talking to friend Anna Chappuis on his cell phone who said she would pick him up. It was 2:30 a.m., and although she does not remember word for word what he said, Chappuis says she remembers hearing, "Oh my God. Help." before the call ended abruptly.
Friends and family tried looking for Dan and calling him repeatedly, getting his voicemail each time until about 8:30 a.m. when his phone went dead, which is when they called police.
Dan's body was found in the Mississippi River on May 1, 2009. Police believe he may have gotten too close to the river and slipped. The Ramsey County medical examiner's office ruled the death an accidental drowning and the St. Paul Police Department had closed the case. Police said they were still investigating how Dan, who was underage, got alcohol.
The Search for Dan
Search teams scoured the bluffs and banks of the Mississippi all morning and afternoon on May 1. Helicopters with infared flew overhead, water patrol checked along shore. Friends and family searched in culverts, brush, trees and alleys; and the University of St. Thomas organized a block by block, door-to-door search. Police did find a footprint leading away from the river, in the direction of the road, but they could not say for certain that it belonged to Dan.
Over the 27 days he was missing, more than 1,200 people searched for Dan Zamlen.
Parents express frustration before House of Representatives
Dan's parents testified before the MN House of representatives on 4/15/09 to help enact Brandon's Law, which would require law makers to take reports and investigate missing adults without delay when they are endangered.
During testimony, Dan's parents, Dale and Sally, reported frustration with the police for keeping searchers away from the bluff and also refusing to go search it because it was "too dangerous."
The Zamlen's feel that had the search been expedited, Dan could have been found quickly. Although Dan disappeared in a cell phone dead zone between a tower for Minneapolis and a tower for St. Paul, Dan was very technologically saavy and had an I-Phone. The I-Phone comes with a GPS "ping," making it easier to track one's location. This phone was paid for by Dan's parents and was in his mother's name, yet they were refused access to the information without a court order.
On Wednesday, May 6, 2009 Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed Brandon's Law, which would eliminate waiting periods when adults disappear under suspicious circumstances, or when young adults up to age 21 are reported missing under most circumstances.
Family belives it was an abduction
During the testimony before the House of Representatives, Dale said that he believed Dan was abducted. He said that although the Missing Persons Unit quickly zoned in on the river area, other facts seemed to rule out the river. He noted that 8 bloodhounds had searched the area on Tuesday (4/7) or Wednesday (4/8), and kept stopping in the same place, but did not go near the river. He also said that "side scanning sonar" had been used to search the river as well as infared. He also said that he works as an open pit miner and walked through the area, and did not feel that someone would easily slip there. And if they did, it would leave a mark. Nothing was in the area where Dan was found. He also felt that Dan's training as an Eagle Scout would have prepared him for an accident outdoors.
Dan Zamlen recovered from Mississipi River
On May 1, 2009 at 11:46 a.m, the body of Dan Zamlen was pulled from the Mississippi River near the Ford Motor Co. power plant in St. Paul. The Ford plant is down river from the area where Zamlen went missing on April 5. Workers at the plant found the body while cleaning grates that catch debris in the river near the power plant. A wallet found on the body and also a positive identification by Dan's parents, Dale and Sally Zamlen, confirmed that it was Dan.
The body was taken to the Ramsey County coroner's office. Police did not say whether there were signs of foul play. St. Paul Police spokesman Pete Panos said he believes Zamlen fell down the bluff and into the river.
The Ramsey County medical examiner's office later ruled the death an accidental drowning and the St. Paul Police Department closed the case. At the time, police said they were still investigating how Dan, who was underage, got alcohol.
New information released by police
On February 8, 2010, WCCO reported that the police had released new details to the media, including 400 pages of documents that supposedly detail that friends were worried about Zamlen months before he disappeared. Two friends say Zamlen was deeply conflicted about his own sexual orientation. In the initial police report and witness statements, friends say Zamlen talked about possibly killing himself the night he disappeared." Police say they released the information because the case was ruled an accidental drowning, and the investigation is now complete barring new evidence or information.
However, Dan's parents, Dale and Sally Zamlen, of Eveleth don't believe the case should closed. They cite numerous questions left unanswered in the case, such as how Dan Zamlen got down to the river from the bluffs without injury. St. Louis County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Uncini of Hibbing, who performed a second autopsy at the request of the family, said Zamlen did not have injuries that would suggest he tumbled or fell down the rocky or brush-filled slope like the one near where Dan Zamlen was last seen. “It is likely he drowned,"Uncini told the Duluth News Tribune, "but I feel the manner of death cannot be determined and requires more police investigation and/or access to existing police records." So the question that remains is how the case could be concluded when the additional police investigation recommended by the medical examiner was not done. "There are facts that the police didn’t look at; there are questions that are legitimate," said Sally Zamlen.
Also noted is the discovery of baseball with a smiley face on it as well as a sign marked with smiley face graffiti near the bluffs, evidence of a possible smiley face killer. Police say they were not able to connect the items to Zamlen's death, but the family has been in contact with the New York investigators looking into the smiley face killer theory.
In addition to the speculation raised by the graffiti, there appears to be varying accounts reported by witnesses who were at the party that night, including variations on what was said during Dan's final cell phone call. Many are left to wonder why the police are relying so heavily on witness statements when they appear to have so many holes.
Furthermore, a toxicology screening at the time of second autopsy uncovered the presence of Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid [GHB] in Zamlen’s body. GHB is a powerful intoxicant, coined a "date rape drug," because it is easily slipped into someone's drink and can quickly lead to a loss of muscle control or even consciousness when combined with alcohol. While GHB can be produced naturally in the body, Uncini could not exclude the possibility that Zamlen had ingested it. Police reports indicate that Zamlen had been drinking, and while he may have brought his own alcohol to the party, there are indications that he could have purchased some alcohol at the party.
Police say they would not be able to charge hosts of the party in relation to Zamlen's underage alcohol use, because it would be difficult to prove that the hosts had provided him with any alcohol.
According to the Duluth News Tribune, "Sally Zamlen said she’s spent the past 10 months reading and re-reading the statements of her son’s friends and acquaintances. She’s searched the Internet seeking information on forensic pathology and stages of decomposition in a drowning victim. She’s offended that two female acquaintances of her son told police that he was suicidal because he thought he was gay and he told them he was going to kill himself that night. “My son can’t dispute that — he’s dead,’’ she said and added that there is no evidence that her son even talked to the women who made the claim. “I think he got in a vehicle and I personally believe he went into a diabetic coma, and whoever was with him thought he was dead and panicked,’’ she said. “That’s been my feeling since April 5. “I’m going to continue to go through this paperwork and continue to get more opinions and continue to gather more information,’’ she said.
Click here to read Sally Zamlen's response to the information released.
About Dan Zamlen
Dan was a A-student and a 3-star athlete. He ran 10 miles a day, often running to the Ford Plant, U of M, or State Capitol, and according to his father, had the heart rate of a marathon runner. His parents described him as having a "good head on his shoulders." He was an altar boy and catechism teacher, as well as an Eagle Scout. About a year ago, Dan suspected he had diabetes and went to the doctor; he found out he was a Type I diabetic. Being very saavy about technology, he decided to get an OmniPod insulin pump, which carried enough for a 3-day supply of insulin.
About 100 students and relatives gathered Friday evening (May 1) at St. John Vianney Seminary. Rev. William Baer said so much heart went into the search that it was hard to have it end this way.
Facts of Interest
Name/age: Dan Zamlen, 19
Hometown: Eveleth, MN
College: University of St. Thomas, St. Paul
Residence: Brady Residence Hall
Physical Description: 6’1,” 175 pounds, brown hair with blonde highlights, blue eyes, fair complexion
Last Seen: 4/5/09 3 a.m., intersection of St Clair and Mississippi River Blvd., wearing a dark blue and black zip-up fleece with a light blue Hollister polo, blue jeans and brown Dr. Marten shoes. Dan is a type 1 diabetic. He has an OmniPod which is a device to control his insulin. When his insulin has run out, the OmniPod will begin to beep quite loudly.
Recovered: 5/1/09, 11:46 a.m., Mississippi River near Ford power plant in St. Paul, MN.
Cause of death ruling: Drowning
Manner of death ruling: Accident