Parents want quicker searches
ST. PAUL -- Sally and Dale Zamlen say state law slowed a search for their son, missing from St. Paul since April 5.
"Their hands are tied," Dale Zamlen told a Minnesota House Committee Wednesday about police. "They did all the right things. They followed the letter of the law."
The law did not require police to launch a search immediately because at 18, Dan Zamlen, a St. Thomas University freshman from Eveleth, was considered an adult and many law enforcement agencies' policies allow officers to wait to begin an adult missing persons case. Missing children reports must be investigated immediately.
The Zamlens and the author of a bill to speed searches said vital time was lost as the battery of the student's mobile telephone -- which includes a tracking device -- was dying early April 5.
Sally Zamlen said the family was not allowed to talk to anyone in the St. Paul police missing-persons' unit until two days after her son disappeared along the Mississippi River bluffs. Search dogs were not called to the scene until still later.
On the Sunday her son disappeared, she said, a policeman showed up at the riverside scene where Dan Zamlen was thought to have disappeared -- but only to keep people from going down a steep embankment, not to search for the young man.
"Maybe he wanted his 24 hours of alone time," Sally Zamlen said was the police theory.
"We are seriously, seriously running out of time," Sally Zamlen told the committee.
The House Finance Committee unanimously approved the measure, which likely will be in front of the full House Monday. A Senate vote also is pending.
Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, introduced the bill weeks ago in response to the disappearance of Brandon Swanson in his southwest Minnesota area.
The bill requires law enforcement officers to immediately take and circulate reports of most missing people between 18 and 21 years of age. It also requires quick action when older people are reported missing under dangerous circumstances.
Some law enforcement departments start searches right away, while others do not, Seifert said. State law leaves it up to local agencies.
Sally Zamlen said she did not know about Seifert's bill until Tuesday, but when she heard of it decided to testify for it. Anyone with a child would favor the bill, she said.
In her son's case, a rapid response was especially important because he is diabetic and would run out of insulin within three days.
Some evidence points to the possibility that Dan Zamlen did not fall into the river, as authorities first believed. Dogs lost his scent near a street intersection and his iPhone kept operating for six hours after his final call, which seemed to indicate he did not immediately slip down a bluff into the river.
"His last words were 'Oh god, oh god,'" Sally Zamlen said of a mobile telephone call he made early Sunday.
Dale Zamlen said the college freshman did not fall into the river.
Added the youth's mother: "I know he is not in that river, unless someone put him there.
"We are running out of time, and money cannot be the reason why we can't get to him in time," she told the committee.
"My son didn't get to take the weekend off," she said. "My son didn't get to come home for Easter."
Sally Zamlen said that searchers would have had a four-day head start if Seifert's bill would have been law.
Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.