Brendan Santo's parents thank volunteers, investigators in search efforts
In their first public statement since their son's body was found, the parents of Brendan Santo took to social media on the eve of his visitation to thank scores of supporters who searched for the Rochester Hills teen at Michigan State University.
In a Wednesday evening Facebook post, Brad and Wendy Santo also praised the private investigator credited with helping authorities find Brendan's body last Friday near the campus where he went missing last fall.
"We prayed the outcome would be different but finding him will allow our family and friends along with Brendan’s friends closure, so we can begin the healing process," the couple wrote.
The Santos posted the message ahead of a Thursday visitation. A private funeral and burial service is expected at a later date.
Santo's family spent nearly three months clinging to hope he would be found after the Grand Valley State University disappeared Oct. 29. The Rochester Adams High graduate joined thousands who flocked to East Lansing ahead of a rivalry football game between MSU and the University of Michigan.
Searches launched within a day after Santo left Yakeley Hall, on the northern edge of campus near Michigan Avenue, where police say the youth was 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.
His iPhone was last pinpointed on Beal Street, south of Yakeley, not far from the Red Cedar River.
MSU President Samuel Stanley has said the security camera at the dorm's entrance was not operational at the time.
In the weeks after, authorities launched an extensive search, including by helicopter, drone, a boat and using canine units and divers.
Simultaneously, many volunteers joined relatives to comb the campus and surrounding areas. Supporters also spread the word online to seek tips and keep his case in the public eye.
"The journey our family has been on for the past three months has been the most difficult experience imaginable. The pain simply cannot be put into words," Santo's parents wrote in their message. "We would not have been able to get through this without the overwhelming love, prayers, and support from so many people in our community and beyond. Both people we know and many whom we have never met.
"This gives us great strength and hope that Brendan’s story and infectious smile united so many especially in these challenging times."
Santo's family also worked with a private investigator, Ryan Robison, who while reviewing underwater video of the river last week when "he saw something completely submerged" at a logjam, MSU police said. He alerted the Santo family, then contacted 911 centers in Ingham and Oakland counties early Friday, police reported.
Santo's body was recovered near the intersections of Kalamazoo and Clippert streets in Lansing then identified the next day.
Police have said they do not believe Santo, a former lacrosse and hockey player with dreams of a career in cybersecurity, intended to harm himself or foul play was involved.
"We would also like to express our heartfelt thanks to Ryan & Katie Robison for coming into our lives at our greatest time of need, not only finding Brendan but also supporting us through prayer and many other ways," Santo's parents said. "We prayed every day for God to lead someone to help find Brendan, and we believe God sent Ryan & Katie Robison into our lives to accomplish this."
The couple thanked search volunteers, including the Lansing Oar and Paddle club, kayakers and climbers, and expressed "the utmost respect for the men and women who helped us from law enforcement," citing the dive teams from MSU, Oakland County and others "who put in significant time in the search which we know took a great physical and emotional toll."
The Santos requested privacy as they mourn but said they plan "to work to support Brendan’s legacy by focusing on the things he was most passionate about which were helping people, youth sports, and his love of animals (especially dogs)."
Meanwhile, in the wake of his death, a Change.org petition has launched calling for officials to install "more barriers, lighting and signage in place to prevent any further tragedies along the Red Cedar River and the ravine."
The drive had gained more than 18,500 signatures through Thursday night.