MSU police recover body from river believed to be missing Brendan Santo

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan State University Police on Friday recovered a body they believe is 18-year-old Brendan Santo, who went missing in October during a visit to MSU's East Lansing campus.

Brendan Santo was last seen late Friday, Oct. 29.

Dive crews found the body in the Red Cedar River at 12:30 p.m. Friday in Lansing, about a mile and a half downriver of where Santo was last seen, university police said. 

Police believe the body is Santo's but are still working to confirm identification, according to a statement by police.

MSU Police Inspector Chris Rozman told reporters Friday that the area of the river where the body was found — near the intersection of Kalamazoo and Clippert streets just east of US 127 — had been an "area of interest" for some time as police investigated Santo's disappearance.

A "significant log jam" exists in that area of the river that presented serious  "entanglement hazards and debris" authorities had to navigate, Rozman said. The area, he said, is a “very complex and dangerous point of the river to search and it required a lot of resources to do that.”

On Friday, police got help from MSU arborists to cut a path to the river, where they deployed a boat to search for and eventually retrieve the body.

Friday's search included help from the Michigan State Police Marine Services, Capital Area Dive Team and Oakland County Sheriff's Office, Rozman said. 

Police say the investigation into Santo's disappearance remains active, and officials still continue to look into circumstances and details. In a statement, the department stressed they still have no reason to believe Santo intended to harm himself or that foul play was involved in his disappearance. 

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said that a team of 10 deputies from his department spent 11 days and more than 800 hours in the search effort. They used boats and trailers and sonar as well as chainsaws, he said, to help move debris and trees from the river.

"Our deepest sympathies are with the family and his friends," he said in a statement Friday. "We know that there is a void they will never fill from this tragedy but sincerely hope this brings them a sliver of peace.”

Police asked for privacy for Santo's family.

Hours after the news emerged, supporters posted pictures on social media of hockey sticks to honor Santo, an avid player, with the hashtag #sticksoutforbrendansanto.

"We want to remember him in a positive way," said Jennifer Alter, whose son at Rochester High School played hockey with Santo.

While learning of his presumed death was devastating, said Alter, who circulated the hashtag and helped search for the teen, "we all want to find out it was just an accident — that it just happened and it took this long to find him."

In a statement Friday, Philomena Mantella, president of Grand Valley State University, where Santo attended, said the school would support the family.

"The death of any student in our community is painful and distressing," she said. "Our thoughts and prayers continue for Brendan’s family and friends as they deal with this tragic loss."

Santo of Rochester Hills was among thousands who went to East Lansing on Oct. 29 ahead of a rivalry football game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. 

The GVSU student vanished shortly before the game, and family, friends, volunteers and law enforcement have been searching for him in the 80 days since. 

Searches started within a day after Santo left Yakeley Hall, on the northern edge of campus near Michigan Avenue, where police say the teen was last spotted walking away shortly before midnight.

He had driven his truck to campus and planned to stay with friends in the complex of residence halls known as the Brody neighborhood, a nearly 15-minute walk west, his family has said. 

Wearing a black baseball cap, black T-shirt, gray sweatpants and white Converse high-tops, Santo wore a gold cross necklace and had an iPhone in hand.

Investigators learned the device had zero power, relatives have said, and was last pinpointed on Beal Street, south of Yakeley Hall.

MSU President Samuel Stanley previously confirmed the security camera at the entrance of Yakeley Hall was not operational on the night Santo was last seen.

In a Friday email to the Spartan community, Stanley and Marlon Lynch, vice president for public safety and chief of police, said they were saddened to share that the body believed to be Santo was recovered from the river.

The discovery, they noted, comes after more than two months of "extensive searching" using countless resources and support from nearly every corner of the state and country.

"We continue to believe there was no foul play involved and that Brendan did not intend to harm himself. There also is no threat to the safety and security of our campus," the email reads. 

"While the news today may bring some closure to such a tragic incident, our hearts ache for the Santo family, Brendan’s loved ones and friends," it adds.

Michigan State University students seeking counseling following Friday's discovery can call (517) 355-8270. Grand Valley State University students can call (616) 331-3266.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.