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MSU police: Brendan Santo's body ID'd after investigator's tip led to recovery

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An online petition has been started for more safety measures on Michigan State University's campus after missing Brendan Santo's body was found Friday in the Red Cedar River.

A Change.org petition, which has more than 10,200 signatures Sunday night, said there is no fencing along the Red Cedar River and it is "not explorable or walkable by humans or animals" given that it "drops quickly to a steep ravine/river" that is "very dangerous with no danger/warning signs near the opening."

"MSU needs to put barriers, lighting and signage in place to prevent any further tragedies along the Red Cedar River and the ravine," the petition said. "Let’s make MSU a safer place in memory of our beloved Brendan Santo."

Santo's body was identified by the medical examiner Saturday night, MSU police said, after a private investigator working with Santo's family alerted them to the body found in the river. 

The identification was made based on dental records, said Chris Rozman, an MSU police spokesman, in an email.

The petition went up Saturday on Change.org, the day his body was formally identified.

Police said they had planned to search that area of the river the following week but the tip from private investigator Ryan Robison at about midnight Friday led them to close off the area and begin assembling dive resources within an hour of notification.

The search, which began at first light, resulted in the recovery of a body believed to be that of 18-year-old Santo of Rochester Hills at about 12:30 p.m. Friday in an area of the river near the intersections of Kalamazoo and Clippert streets in Lansing. 

Brendan Santo

Robison has been working with the Santo family and was reviewing underwater video of the area when "he saw something completely submerged in the water at the logjam," according to the statement from MSU police. Robison told the Santo family, then contacted 911 centers in Ingham and Oakland counties, police said. 

A social media post Friday night highlighting Robison's involvement went viral. 

In a statement Saturday, MSU police said it wasn't their intention to hide Robison's role in the investigation. The department said it hadn't named Robison publicly because they weren't sure if he or the Santo family wanted the information public.

Instead, the department's press release Friday had said police "worked collaboratively with the Santo family and their supporters" and that their help was "essential" to finding Santo. 

"Not only is that statement true, we cannot thank Ryan enough for his relentless efforts," the department said in a statement. "Ryan shared with responders that morning that he was in awe of the totality of the response on January 21 from divers and rescue teams from multiple departments. We are grateful for the tireless dedication of the Santo family and all of their supporters throughout this investigation."

Law enforcement had planned to search the area of the river where the body was found the week of Jan. 24, but that timeline was moved up by Robison's call, MSU police said.

On Friday, Inspector Chris Rozman said the location had been an "area of interest" because there was a "significant log jam." But authorities needed the proper resources to search the area because of "entanglement hazards and debris."

MSU arborists on Friday 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.

The Facebook post noting Robison's involvement in the search said he had been working on the case for about 15 days and had worked to chop ice and place cameras in the area of the logjam for several days. 

The investigation into Santo's disappearance remains active, but police do not believe Santo intended to harm himself or that there was foul play involved. 

Santo 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 Grand Valley State University 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 an email Friday 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 that of 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. 

Staff Writer Leonard N. Fleming contributed.