Police: Lake search finds no trace of ND students

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

DICKINSON, N.D. – Dive teams found no trace of three missing college softball players during a search Tuesday of a North Dakota lake where the women often went star gazing as authorities focused on tracing two cell phone calls made just before the three disappeared.

Police have refused to speculate on what might have happened to Kyrstin Gemar, 22, of San Diego; Afton Williamson, 20, of Lake Elsinore, Calif.; and Ashley Neufeld, 21, of Brandon, Manitoba in Canada. The women were believed to be in a white 1997 Jeep Cherokee with California plates when they were last heard from late Sunday night, authorities said.

Two friends of the Dickinson State University students received telephone calls late Sunday night before the lines went dead. Police described the first as a “very scratchy” call for help in which one of the women said they were near a lake and water.

Dickinson Police Lt. Dave Wallace said the calls came from two different phones, but authorities are not sure how many phones were in the vehicle. Authorities were trying to work with the local cell phone company to try to pin down the locations of where the calls were made, police said.

One of the friends who received the calls called 911 to report that the women needed help, police said. Foul play was not suspected in their disappearance but was not being ruled out, police said.

“I think I’m still in the shock phase,” Kyrstin Gemar’s father, Lenny, said Tuesday during a news conference at police headquarters. “It’s really tough, especially not knowing. That’s the hardest part.”

Gemar said his wife, Clare, talked to their daughter late Saturday night but there was no indication that anything was wrong. He said it was not uncommon for his daughter and her friends to go star gazing on the spur of the moment.

Neufeld’s father, Phil, declined comment other than to say the “cooperation and support is amazing here.”

A dive team searched Patterson Lake, where the students often went to look at stars, and found nothing, Wallace said. The lake is located southwest of Dickinson, a city of 16,000 people about 100 miles west of Bismarck and 60 miles east of the Montana state line.

Police also said they searched the women’s rooms and were interviewing their classmates, friends and people near Killdeer, north of Dickinson. The North Dakota National Guard was called to assist by helicopter, and the Civil Air Patrol and North Dakota Highway Patrol continued to search by plane Tuesday.

“From what we’re finding out, these are three very good girls and this is uncommon that they would do something like this,” said police Lt. Rod Banyai. Authorities notified Canadian border officials and were told that the Jeep had not crossed the border, he said.

At Dickinson State, where the women were stars on the school’s softball team, the mood on campus was “apprehensive” but also “guardedly optimistic,” said the university’s Vice President Hal Haynes.

Students at the 2,700-student school led a prayer service Monday night that drew more than 300 people. Another prayer services was scheduled for Tuesday night, university officials said.

“People are hopeful and doing whatever is possible to aid in this effort to find these three young ladies,” Haynes said.

The college lists Gemar as a senior business major who played third base on the softball team. Neufield is a senior outfielder who is working on a degree in psychology, and Williamson, a junior, is a pitcher majoring in psychology with a minor in coaching.

“It’s a scary thing. It’s something so rare for a little town like this. Everybody is praying. Everybody’s minds are just wondering now because there’s no clues,” said Shaunda Dvorak, a Dickinson State volleyball player who worked out with the three women.