Ten years later, community remembers Dru Sjodin
It’s been 10 years since Dru Sjodin was abducted and killed, but the community has not forgotten the woman who was their classmate, student, daughter and friend.
Teachers at Pequot Lakes Schools wore pink on Friday, Nov. 22, which marked 10 years from the day that Sjodin was abducted. Many students were also wearing pink.
Vicki Palmer, teacher at Pequot Lakes High School (PLHS), said Sjodin was a warm and fun young lady. Physical education teacher Tom Smith said Sjodin lit up the hallways.
“If you weren’t in a good mood and you ran into her, she made it better,” Smith said.
Sjodin, a PLHS graduate, was abducted from a mall parking lot in Grand Forks, N.D., on Nov. 22, 2003. She was 22. Several PLHS teachers and former students went to look for Sjodin’s body, which was found April 14, 2004. Sjodin had been sexually assaulted and murdered. Her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez, is on death row.
Smith and Dave Guenther, PLHS art teacher, traveled to Crookston to look for Sjodin’s body. They met up with several former students who were Sjodin’s classmates.
“It was hard, looking, searching every culvert. You don’t know where to look,” Guenther said. “It was long days, but nothing compared to what others were going through.”
Guenther said the art room was one of Sjodin’s hangouts while she was a student at the school.
“She was who she was. Very popular, very down to earth,” he said.
He said he’s often asked about Sjodin, and always takes the time to tell students about her.
“I’m not going to let this be forgotten,” he said.
Sjodin’s mother, Linda Walker, has worked on many fronts to raise awareness, pass legislation and support efforts to end crimes like those that were committed against Sjodin.
Her daughter’s death has left a huge void in her life. Every day is different, and she said there are some days she doesn’t know how she’ll get through the day, but she always tries to get something positive out of the day.
“It’s one foot in front of the other to somehow make a right out of this wrong,” Walker said.
She said one of her greatest achievements in the last 10 years was the signing of the Adam Walsh Act, which included the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website. Walker lobbied for the act and was invited to the White House when it was signed into law.
The Adam Walsh Act is to protect children from sexual exploitation and violent crime, to prevent abuse and child pornography and to promote Internet safety.
The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website provides sex offender information across state lines. The website is www.nsopr.gov.
Walker has joined together with other families of kidnapped children to form the Surviving Parents Coalition, which partnered with radKIDS, a nonprofit that provides personal empowerment and safety education to children.
Walker said when it comes to dangers like what Dru faced, “awareness is key.”
She recommended that anyone who can take a self-defense class do so.
“I don’t talk about it to raise fear, but education and awareness are key,” she said, adding, “Listen to your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, most likely it’s not right.”
“This could happen anywhere, and does,” Guenther said. “We can make this a teachable moment for the kids. Something good has to come of this.”
“It’s a hard lesson,” Palmer said. “Be aware.”
Walker said that when Dru went missing, she saw overwhelming support from the community.
“For having such evil coming into your world, there was so much love, support and giving,” she said.
Today, Sjodin’s memory is carried forward with the Dru Sjodin Purple Elephant Run/Walk and the Dru Sjodin Golf Event in Pequot Lakes. The run supports radKIDS, and the golf event funds a PLHS scholarship in Dru’s name. The University of North Dakota, which Sjodin attended, also has a scholarship in her name. A flower garden in Pequot Lakes’ Trailside Park is named for Sjodin.
Walker has suffered numerous losses, not only with her daughter’s death but also the death of her husband, Sid Walker, and her parents, all in the last 10 years. But she still finds things to be thankful for.
“I’m thankful for the strength of how my parents raised me, my faith in God, and I have a remarkable friend base. I’m thankful for this community that’s really held Dru up,” Walker said.