STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — This weekend’s disappearance of a sorority member is being felt not only around the University of Minnesota campus, but also in her hometown of Stillwater.
Jennifer Houle, 22, was last seen leaving Blarney Pub in Dinkytown at around 1 a.m. Friday. Her purse was found about three blocks away.
The Stillwater community, including some of her friends, turn turned out for an emotional gathering Sunday night at Stillwater High School.
This family really is private as they did not attend the vigil of about 300 people. The crowd that was there prayed for Jen’s safe return. And they wanted to encourage the public to help look for her.
By the dozens, people from different parts of her life came together, from friends to old teachers.
“She’s just the friendliest girl honestly,” friend Amanda Branch said.
“There just isn’t much else we can do but show our support for the family,” teacher Kristen Carter said.
“It’s got to be devastating,” teacher Matt Hemenway said.
Jennifer Houle’s grandfather led a prayer that she will be found safe.
“It’s scary that this could happen to someone to someone we know,” Branch said.
While police say they are looking into several possibilities of what happened, a closely-knit community full of supporters is left with hope and prayer as its only defense in this difficult time.
“Yeah I mean I hope she’s found as soon as possible alive and able to be with her family and continue to graduate in May and have her live go on as it should,” Branch said.
Meanwhile, on campus, the incident left students like sophomore Jaysa Johnson with dark thoughts on what could have happened to Houle.
“We are just so shocked it happened so close to where we are every single day,” Johnson said. “This normal, average girl just missing all of the sudden.”
At Blarney Pub, where Houle was last seen, owner Mike Mulrooney offered up his help.
“I’ve spent a great deal of time in prayers and tears,” Mulrooney said. “It’s tough.”
Minneapolis police say her disappearance is still being treated as a missing person case. Anyone with information on Houle’s whereabouts is asked to call 911 or the Minneapolis police tipline at 612-692-8477. They say they’ve had several tips since she went missing on Friday.
There have been recent incidents near the University of Minnesota campus involving sexual assaults. Authorities said at this point, they have no reason to believe Houle’s case can be linked.
Still, Johnson says the incident has been a reminder of the struggles some students can face.
“Sometimes you don’t know what’s going on with people under the surface,” she said. “You have to look out for each other.”
Houle’s family says they are in talks with police in regards to organizing a ground search. However, officials have yet to determine the best place to have a search.
University of Minnesota officials said Sunday that the school is working with authorities to help find Houle. They also said that support and counseling is available for any university members who need it.