Search for missing Thief River woman ends
THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. - Family and friends of Gina Anderson gathered in her parents' home here Wednesday, grieving a year's worth of wondering and loss after her car was found in the Red Lake River just before noon.
Authorities told the family they believe her body is in the back seat of the bright yellow Pontiac Sunfire. Anderson, 32, was last seen driving away from her home here Oct. 23 of last year.
Pennington County Deputy Ray Kuznia said where the car likely entered the river, on the southeast side of the city, there is a steep drop-off and it's possible for a driver to accidentally go off the road at that point and into the river.
There are two yellow signs with a space between them that would allow a small vehicle to go down the steep bank. The path is used as a snowmobile trail, so if there were tracks left, they weren't seen as anything out of the ordinary, he said.
Kuznia was one of the investigators in a boat who first saw the car Wednesday.
"It was about a foot below the surface," he said of first spotting it from about 15 yards away. "We didn't know it was a car right away."
By 4:30 p.m., the car was in the Pennington County shop and investigators pried open the locked doors of the mud-covered car and began checking out the interior, shining flashlights into the back seat, where apparently her remains were seen. The muddied license plate on the front barely revealed the first three digits: 224.
No official word can be made yet about what was found in the car, said Thief River Falls Police Chief Kim Murphy.
But family members said authorities told them they believe Anderson's body was in the car.
It's been a rough year for the Anderson family, including parents Judy and Steve Lappegaard. A few weeks after Gina disappeared, their youngest daughter, Jill Lappegaard, died in a traffic accident, alone on a rural road near Thief River Falls.
Gina left her purse with her seizure medication in her home when she left the house Oct. 23. Men working on a house next door said they exchanged brief pleasantries as she drove away and she appeared OK.
When her husband, Jeremy, got home from work that evening, he found her gone, her purse still in the house. He began calling family and friends, but no one knew anything.
The next morning, he reported her missing.
No leads or tips on her whereabouts ever panned out, Kuznia said. The region was searched by land and air, and the river was searched several times.
The car was found Wednesday because of the effort to lower the river level. Anderson's car was on the upstream leg of the Red Lake River as it comes into the city from the southeast. Several feet of muddy shoreline showed how far the water had gone down this week.
The rivers in the city had been searched several times using high-tech equipment.
"We thought they did an excellent job," Kuznia said. "But a few of us still said we wanted to see with our own eyes and that it would be a good idea to lower the river."
On Wednesday, friends of Anderson stopped to see the place where her car was pulled out.
"She was a great person," said Laurie Wilson. "She loved her family."