Authorities on Tuesday vowed not to rest until they find a missing North Dakota college student, despite the arrest of a man described by authorities as a predatory sex offender who is expected to be charged in connection with her disappearance.
Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 50, was arrested Monday in Crookston, Minn., where he lives, and was being held in the Tri-County Correctional Center, Grand Forks police said.
The missing student, Dru Sjodin, 22, was believed to have been kidnapped Nov. 22 while talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone and still has not been found.
“Dru, we will find you,” Grand Forks Police Chief John Packett said at a briefing Tuesday. “With the arrest of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. last night, this investigation has only reached the 50-yard line. As additional charges and information comes available, we will not be satisfied or comforted until such time as we find Dru.”
Rodriquez had been expected to appear in court Tuesday, but officials said the appearance would be delayed until Wednesday morning.
Rodriguez, who has a history of sexual contact and attempted kidnapping with adult females, was not expected to fight extradition to North Dakota, sources familiar with the case told NBC News.
Authorities declined to say Tuesday whether Rodriguez was cooperating.
“Our entire focus on this is in finding Dru,” Grand Forks County state’s attorney Peter Welte said. “This is by no means the end. This is a marathon and not a sprint.”
'HONEY, WE WILL FIND YOU'
Authorities issued a plea for at least 1,000 volunteers to search for Sjodin Wednesday in Grand Forks County and in Polk County, Minn., where Crookston is located. Property owners in the two counties were asked to search their land.
Sjodin’s father and brother spoke directly to their sister.
“Honey, we will find you,” her father, Allan, said. Her brother, Sven, said: “I know we are just around the corner from you right now. We love you. Keep strong.”
Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., was last seen she left her job at the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, about 30 miles from Crookston. Her 1994 red two-door Oldsmobile Cutlass was found in the mall parking lot.
Authorities indicated Tuesday that they had determined that Rodriquez “was in Grand Forks at the time (of Sjodin’s disapperance) and he was in the parking lot.”
Police Sgt. Michael Hedlund had said Monday a crime lab analysis of the car yielded nothing.
'OH, MY GOD'
Soon after the young woman disappeared, her boyfriend, Chris Lang, called Sjodin’s roommate, saying he had received two calls. The first was cut off and Lang heard Sjodin say, “Oh, my God,” before the phone went dead.
A second call a couple of hours later was filled only with static and the sound of numbers being pressed.
Since then, more than 1,300 volunteers have been involved in the search for Sjodin, using all-terrain vehicles to plow through ditches and fields in the Grand Forks area. Divers searched the Red Lake River near Crookston.
In addition, about 30 FBI agents, along with investigators from 20 agencies in three states and the Canadian province of Manitoba, were involved in the case. A $140,000 reward was offered.
The news of the arrest was stunning — coming just hours after the family’s appearance with police.
One of Sjodin’s cousins, Jon Sutfin of Washington, D.C., said the family had remained upbeat during the grueling two weeks of her disappearance. “We look at it as a countdown to finding her,” Sutfin said.
Police have said they received more than 900 calls to a tip line, and more than 5 million hits to a Web site set up to help in the search.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.