MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – An autopsy of human remains that were found in a farmer’s field Monday afternoon are complete, but it has not been confirmed yet if they belong to a missing young woman.
According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, farmer Jim Jensen discovered what was believed to be human remains around 2:31 p.m. while harvesting corn in Orange Township.
“There was many, many police cars and officers that were looking,” Jensen said.
The township is just 15 miles east of Alexandria, where missing 18-year-old college freshman Laura Schwendemann was last seen.
Douglas County deputies said Tuesday the body appeared to be a woman in her late teens or early 20s, and that they had “reason to believe” the body was that of Schwendemann.
“The ones that I talked to, they were hopeful that they would find her, you know, either [she] left home and stuff and was looking for something else or whatever, but I never, ever figured it should end like this,” Jensen said.
She was last seen on video almost two weeks ago at a gas station in Alexandria. Authorities said she was with a man that she knew.
The sheriff’s office has been talking to him. They said he was the focus of their investigation and they called him a person of interest.
“We are aggressively pursuing the leads that we have, and believe that we are making active progress in solving this case,” the sheriff’s office said. “We do not have reason to believe that the general public is in danger and our focus is now why and how this young woman died.”
Schwendemann was a student at the University of Minnesota, Morris. The school issued a statement Tuesday saying: “We are very saddened by this tragic loss and express our deepest sympathy to Laura’s family and friends … We are keeping Laura’s family and friends in our hearts and our thoughts. This is a sad time for our campus and for our friends and neighbors in Starbuck.”
The college urged students to visit their student counseling staff for support.
Schwendemann had lived in both Hancock and Starbuck. The case is is not sitting well with residents of the nearby small towns, many of whom joined in the many searches for Schwendemann.
“It’s just north of my house by a couple miles, so it’s kind of scary,” Douglas County resident Nancy Ahlfors said. “Something everybody talks about right now. It’s just close to home for everybody, you know. A child missing, you know. Everybody’s got kids.”
The sheriff’s office said they have not received information that would support Schwendemann left the gas station that night by her own decision. They think the two traveled to unknown locations throughout southern Douglas County and northern Pope County that night and into the next morning.
“I called my son and daughter-in-law, and they were kind of taking it a little bit hard,” Schwendemann’s uncle John said, adding that she was a sweet girl. “A terrific piano player. She raised chickens, had a horse in her younger days. Real smart, bright, soft-spoken.”
They said several other agencies have been involved in this ongoing investigation. So far, police have conducted interviews as well as air and ground searches.
The medical examiner is performing an autopsy to determine the identity of the human remains and cause of death.
A vigil for Schwendemann is planned for tomorrow at Fron Lutheran Church in Starbuck.
Additional Reporting by Susie Jones, WCCO Radio