- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — The arrest of a convicted rapist in the disappearance of a college student produced no immediate breakthrough yesterday in the search for the young woman, but the police chief vowed: “Dru, we will find you.”

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., 50, was arrested Monday night in nearby Crookston, Minn., and charged with kidnapping Dru Sjodin, 22, a student at the University of North Dakota. Miss Sjodin has been missing since Nov. 22, when she left her job at a Victoria’s Secret at a mall in Grand Forks.

“This investigation has only reached the 50-yard line,” Grand Forks Police Chief John Packett said. “We will not be satisfied or comforted until such time as we find Dru.”

Prosecutor Peter Welte said police believe Mr. Rodriguez was in the mall parking lot the night Miss Sjodin disappeared.

Authorities would not say exactly how they connected Mr. Rodriguez to the case, though they said it is routine to look at sex offenders in the area when investigating such crimes.

Mr. Rodriguez has convictions for rape, attempted kidnapping and aggravated assault, and has used a weapon in at least one assault, according to the Minnesota Corrections Department.

Because of his record, Mr. Rodriguez was required to register as a predatory offender — the classification for those believed to pose the greatest risk of committing another sex crime.

Mr. Rodriguez was released from prison in May after serving 23 years for an attempted abduction in 1979. Wayne Swanson, the prosecutor in that case, said Mr. Rodriguez tried to abduct a woman off the street in Crookston, and stabbed her when she fought back. The woman got away, and Mr. Rodriguez was arrested with the help of a sketch she made.

In the Sjodin case, authorities released photographs of the suspect’s car, a red four-door 2002 Mercury Sable, and asked that anyone who may have spotted the car around the time of Miss Sjodin’s disappearance call the police.

“Our entire focus on this is in finding Dru,” Mr. Welte said. “This is by no means the end. This is a marathon and not a sprint.”

Volunteers were to resume their search today. A similar search drew 1,300 volunteers for one day last week.