It wasn't the ending anyone had hoped for, but a community-driven search effort gave a family in Hugo some comfort and peace of mind while bringing neighbors together in common purpose.
"We had a goal in mind. That was to find Ray -- bottom line," said Deb Hanson, a search organizer. "I don't know how else to say that."
On Sunday night, the body of 76-year-old Ray Novakovic was found in a swampy area near his home in Hugo. Volunteers who had never even met him were able to bring him home to a family that had been wondering where he was for a week.
Hanson and her husband became frustrated when it appeared law enforcement officers were winding down their search efforts to find Novakovic, an avid walker who was known to become disoriented and had disappeared during a routine walk around the neighborhood.
"I said, 'We are going to find Ray,'" she recalled.
On Tuesday night, Hanson started creating flyers and posters. Soon, a Facebook page was created and full-blown volunteer searches were launched. By the end of the weekend, she estimates between 400 and 500 people had gotten involved.
The metro area has seen several massive, community-driven search efforts in the last year. Volunteers from all walks of life have flocked to calls for help. In Hugo, a 14-year-old freshman-to-be was the one who ended the quest to find a beloved husband, father and grandfather.
"I thought he needed to get found, so I went out there and searched," Andrew Schommer told FOX 9 News.
Schommer is a Washington County explorer and an aspiring police officer, and he found the body in an overgrown area of swamp on Sunday afternoon.
"I don't feel like a hero," he said. "We're all heroes."
No matter where the search has centered in the last 10 months, community spirit seems to surge in response. Last December, it was seen in Chisago County when Danielle Jelinek went missing. In St. Paul, volunteers trekked across frozen lakes to find Kira Trevino. In Eden Prairie, the search for Mandy Matula brought throngs of people together, as did searches for missing toddlers Daisy Jo Holland, in Elk River, and Isaiah Theis, in Polk County, Wis.
Authorities insist they can't handle massive searches alone, and it seems that metro communities are eager to ensure they don't have to.
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
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