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Search for missing Eveleth student ends in the Mississippi

Photos of Dan Zamlen and flowers are displayed at a prayer service for Zamlen at the St. John Seminary chapel on the University of St. Thomas campus on Friday.

As a half-dozen friends of missing Eveleth student Dan Zamlen met to continue the search effort on Friday, they received the news they had been dreading the most.

A body had been pulled from the Mississippi River in St. Paul a couple of hours earlier, and it was later confirmed to be their friend.

Dan Zamlen was a freshman at the University of St. Thomas who would have celebrated his 19th birthday just days after he went missing almost a month ago, in the early hours of April 5, and had not been seen or heard from since a cell phone conversation with a friend was broken off as he walked along the Mississippi River.

About noon on Friday, police officers recovered a body from the river near the Ford Motor Company plant in St. Paul. The Ford Dam is 1.2 miles downriver from the spot where Zamlen was last known to be, at the intersection of St. Clair Avenue and Mississippi River Boulevard in St. Paul. The body was discovered by a worker at the Ford plant who was checking for debris around the plant's grates.

Dan's parents, Dale and Sally Zamlen, identified the body later that afternoon. Police confirmed the identification.

Within hours, a Facebook page set up by the Find Dan search and rescue volunteers had tributes and messages of sympathy posted on it.

"This wasn't what we wanted," said longtime family friend Susan Krisak, holding back tears as she arrived at the Find Dan office at the Coates Plaza Hotel in Virginia.

Krisak had graduated with Dan Zamlen's mother, and her daughter, Nicole, attended Virginia High School with Dan Zamlen, a 2008 graduate.

The mother and daughter had arrived at the office on Friday for what was to be another afternoon of handing out fliers and taking phone calls in the Find Dan search effort, only getting the grim news shortly before their arrival.

"It's so sad -- he was such a wonderful person," Krisak said. "The whole group of kids that my daughter hangs out with -- there are 25 to 30 of them -- they are just awesome."

Investigators from St. Paul Police Department are awaiting a cause of death from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office before proceeding with the case, according to a news release.

The University of St. Thomas immediately called a prayer service at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

"I join with Dan's parents, Sally and Dale Zamlen, in expressing our profound gratitude to the authorities and more than 1,200 volunteers from the Twin Cities and northern Minnesota who have given their time and energy to the search," said Father Dennis Dease, the president of St. Thomas.

The discovery of Dan Zamlen's body came the day a busload of volunteers from the Iron Range was due to head down to St. Paul to help continue the search and rescue mission.

Chris Ismil, the director of the search and rescue operation, based out of the Find Dan office in Virginia, said on Friday morning he had been expecting 200 people from the Range and students from St. Thomas to participate in the effort.

"We see people willing to help even after a month because there have been no answers," Ismil said, just a few hours before Dan Zamlen was found.

"I know there are days when they feel hopeless and days when they feel as determined as ever," he added, speaking of the toll on the family, explaining the Zamlens had brought in private investigators, tracking dogs and moved temporarily down to the Twin Cities to continue the search.

Virginia High School is expected to have a memorial service for Dan Zamlen on Monday.

Principal Laverne Hakly said students had been selling T-shirts and bracelets to raise money to help pay for the search for the former student.

"Dan was involved in everything at school -- all the committees; he was an athlete; in the clubs and different things. He was always involved in leadership and even served on the board of education as the student representative," she said.

Bill Matos, the mayor of Eveleth, where the family lives, said: "I send my sympathy to the family at their loss. I can't imagine having a child lost and not knowing where he or she is, and I hope that even in this tragic time, it does bring some closure to them."