The body of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin was found Saturday, revealed by the spring thaw in an area volunteers had searched several times during the five months she had been missing, searchers said Saturday.
Sheriff Mark LeTexier sobbed as he told volunteers, "Dru is home." An official identification and autopsy were scheduled, he said.
Scores of volunteers had joined the search on Saturday for the 22-year-old University of North Dakota student, who had last been seen Nov. 22 at the Grand Forks, N.D., mall where she worked.
While a handful of Sjodin's relatives continued searching through the winter, official searches had been halted in December because of severe weather and resumed this month.
Bob Heales, a private investigator who has coordinated search efforts for the Sjodin family, said the body was found in a ravine near a county road northwest of Crookston.
Sjodin's father, Allan, said it had been "a devastating day."
"We were waiting for that call and when that call came we all stopped living for a second," he said at a press conference.
Volunteers had been near the ravine "probably a dozen times," but the area had been covered with snow, Heales said.
Chris Lang, Sjodin's boyfriend, said he remembers searching the area, but "the drifts were five feet high."
"It just kind of feels numb," Lang said after learning Sjodin's body had been found. "I woke up this morning, and I just knew for sure it was going to happen today.
"Now I know she's been at peace for a long time," Lang said.
Lang was the last person known to have heard from Sjodin, when she spoke to him by cell phone after leaving the Victoria's Secret where she worked.
Convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 51, of Crookston, has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, Minn. He was arrested in December and is jailed in Grand Forks, about 25 miles northwest of Crookston, on $5 million bail.
Prosecutor Peter Welte declined to comment Saturday. A judge has ordered lawyers involved in the Rodriguez case not to speak with the media.
Neither Minnesota nor North Dakota has capital punishment, but federal law allows the death penalty for murder committed during a kidnapping. Minnesota U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger and his North Dakota counterpart, Drew Wrigley, said Saturday that it was too early to discuss whether federal murder charges would be pursued.
At a court hearing last month, investigators testified that blood matching Sjodin's DNA was found in Rodriguez's car. Police said they also found a knife in the car that matches a sheath discovered near Sjodin's car.
Before the sheriff's announcement, Lang arrived in tears at the school where volunteers had gathered for the search. He and Allan Sjodin joined authorities in a trailer serving as a makeshift command post.
Heales said Sjodin's friends and family felt relieved Saturday that Sjodin had been found.
"Dru's coming home and that's what we've wanted from the beginning," he said. "We never wanted to go through life without knowing where she was."