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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Police Arrest Sex Offender, Search Continues for College Student

Aired December 2, 2003 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: First the search in North Dakota for a missing college student.
Today a man is under arrest in neighboring Minnesota. He's a convicted rapist, released from prison just last May.

But still no word on Dru Sjodin. She vanished nine days ago after leaving work at a Grand Forks mall. Police in Grand Forks are about to brief reporters. We're standing by for that news conference.

In fact, let's go there live right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning. I appreciate everybody being here this morning, and online.

Our community is a safer place this morning. The law enforcement officials continue to be resolute in our commitment to find Dru Sjodin and bring her home. Dru, we will find you.

With the arrest of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. last night, this investigation has only reached the 50-yard line. As additional charges and information becomes available, we will not be satisfied or comforted until such time as we find Dru.

Thousands of citizens and law enforcement officers at the local and federal level continue in this effort. A model effort, if I may comment on it.

At this time, I would like to introduce Mayor Michael R. Brown, city of Grand Forks. Mayor?

MICHAEL R. BROWN, MAYOR OF GRAND FORKS: As mayor, I'm here to express the commitment of our community to continue to support Dru's family and continue to make all of our resources available in bringing her home.

As a community, we need to stay focused, stay positive and stay available to help the authorities in the search to bring Dru home.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mayor. Grand Forks state's attorney Peter Welte. Mr. Welte?

PETE WELTE, NORTH DAKOTA STATE'S ATTORNEY: Thank you, chief. Good morning. Last night, shortly after 7, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was arrested at his home in Crookston. And he was arrested on a warrant issued by the Grand Forks County state's attorney's office and signed by a judge of the Grand Forks District court for the charge of kidnapping which is a felony in North Dakota.

Out of respect for this amazing family and out of concern for the integrity of this process, we are not going to be able to discuss any of the evidence in this case at this time, nor any of the specifics involving the investigation.

Having said that, I would certainly entertain any other questions that you may have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has he confessed?

WELTE: I beg your pardon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has he confessed?

WELTE: We're not able to discuss any of the evidence in this case with regards to any statements that Mr. Rodriguez may or may not have made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still operating under the assumption that Dru is alive?

WELTE: We are trying to maintain a positive outlook on this, and we are approaching it from that aspect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long has he been cooperating...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Mr. Rodriguez, right from the get-go here?

WELTE: We can't discuss anything about the specifics with regards to Mr. Rodriguez or how long we've been investigating him. As you're aware of, he is a level three sex offender in Minnesota, and accordingly, that is something that we do look at in these investigations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he cooperating with authorities in the search for Dru? Is he cooperating with authorities in the search for Dru, to provide any leads?

WELTE: I don't know what the standpoint is from that aspect of whether or not Mr. Rodriquez is cooperating, but we aren't at liberty to discuss what he has said, anyway.

Steve, you had said something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any other arrests possible?

WELTE: We're maintaining a positive outlook here. We haven't closed out any leads. This is a remarkable effort by law enforcement. There have been -- contrary to what you may see on TV, sometimes you hear about turf wars with law enforcement. It has been nothing short of a privilege to be involved with this investigation.

Federal authorities have been involved. State, from both the state of Minnesota, state of North Dakota, county authorities, the city of Crookston, the city of Grand Forks.

With regards to that, there are multiple leads that have been coming in from the time of the inception of this investigation. Law enforcement is committed to following through those leads to their logical conclusion, every single one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you expect to arrest soon? Have you arrested him?

WELTE: We can't say at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you confident that have you the right suspect here?

WELTE: We issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Rodriguez based on probable cause that he was the individual who had committed a crime and that a crime had occurred. If we did not feel like we had probable cause, we would not have requested that warrant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you need find Dru to proceed with the kidnapping charge and, if she is found, do you expect other charges?

WELTE: At that time, what we're trying to do is to find Dru. What's happened here with this kidnapping arrest is that there has begun a new chapter in this investigation.

With regards to finding Dru being an element of the crime of kidnapping, that is not an element of the crime of kidnapping in the state of North Dakota.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that the major focus of this investigation, that is so find Dru?

WELTE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there an indication that you heard from authorities in Minnesota that Rodriguez will fight extradition to North Dakota?

WELTE: You know, that's a question that's probably better suited for the Polk County attorney's office. He is being held in the tri- county correctional center in Crookston, Minnesota, and the Polk County attorney's office will be assisting us with any extradition issues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How was he questioned and second question, did he resist arrest? WELTE: I'm not aware of the circumstances of his arrest, whether or not there was resisting or not. As far as when in the investigation he was questioned, I really can't say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there anyone there (ph)?

WELTE: We can't comment on the specifics of that in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you expect another large search to go on, like this afternoon or tomorrow?

WELTE: I believe that there is a coordination of efforts right now for volunteers to continue the search. We'll be proceeding with that today.

Is that right, chief?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

WELTE: And we'll continue the search until we find Dru.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Mr. Rodriguez have an attorney yet?

WELTE: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you expect...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us how long Mr. Rodriguez was under surveillance during this investigation?

WELTE: I really can't comment on that. This has been a 240-hour nightmare for this amazing family. This is something that we are not going to get into discussing the evidence on this.

It's -- all of you out there have family members. You can surely relate to, or at least try to relate, to what this family's going through. We aren't going to comment on the evidence out of respect for them, and out of our concern for the integrity of this investigation and bringing Dru home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the family told of the arrest?

WELTE: I believe the family was told of the arrest shortly after it was made last night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any possibility Mr. Rodriguez is connected to the attempted abduction of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

WELTE: I can't comment on that. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where does the search go on as far as the focus is it still widespread or is it going to be more concentrated in certain areas? Do you have leads from the suspect that maybe are taking you somewhere? WETLE: Right now our entire focus on this is finding Dru. We have a separate chapter that's been opened by the kidnapping charge. By no means is this the end. This is a marathon. It's not a sprint.

We're going to try to continue to find Dru, and that remains our primary focus. I'm only able to take one more question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the placements in Rodriguez, in Grand Forks, the abduction?

WELTE: The question was how do we place Mr. Rodriguez in Grand Forks the day of the abduction. I'm really not able to comment on the specifics, other than to say that we have probable cause that he was in Grand Forks at that time...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the mall?

WELTE: ... and that he was in the parking lot. And we have probable cause and issued the arrest based on that....

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Surveillance video?

WELTE: ... that he was there. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have DNA evidence?

BLITZER: So there is the state attorney, Peter Welte, briefing reporters. We're going to continue to monitor this news conference. Not a whole lot of information but some information, important information in a case that has obviously concerned millions of people around the United States.

The missing young woman, Dru Sjodin. Our Marty Savidge, Martin Savidge has been monitoring this story for us. He's been covering all these developments.

We did get some significant information in the arrest of this Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., Marty, 50 years old, a convicted sex offender, released from prison, only in July. They have arrested him on kidnapping charges. The assumption, of course, being he perhaps kidnapped Dru Sjodin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESONDENT: Right. The thing that's somewhat troubling, I suppose, is the fact that we don't know exactly what led authorities to arrest him. And the most troubling aspect of all is, despite his arrest we don't know the whereabouts of 22-year- old Dru Sjodin, and that's got to be of significant concern.

I mean, you heard the officials talking there in the news conference, Wolf, and they said over and over, from the chief of police all the way to the city attorney, that "Dru, we will find you." I think what was left out there, and if you read between the lines is, "We will find you alive." No one happened to mention that.

Of course, it is the highest hope of everyone involved in this search that she will still be found alive, but it has to be considered troubling that you have an arrest, they feel quite confident this is the right man because the police chief said the community is a safer place, but you do not have the missing young woman. And that, of course, is the source of the intensive search effort going on.

Authorities in Grand Forks, North Dakota, tell us tomorrow they will be enlisting the help of about 1,000 more volunteers as they go out and search once more. Another question, then, does that mean the suspect is giving police information and guiding them perhaps where to look -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we did hear from the state attorney saying we are trying to maintain a positive attitude, assuming, working underneath the assumption that Dru Sjodin is still alive, although apparently no one knows for sure what's going on.

Let's review briefly, Marty, the circumstances surrounding her disappearance. She was working in a mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota, at a Victoria's Secret, one of two part-time jobs that she has, a college student. Pick up the story then.

SAVIDGE: Well, it's on November 22, she's leaving work from the mall there, and she is going, supposedly on her way to her second job, a night job, and she never showed up.

Her car never left the parking lot of the mall, and it was when she did not show up at the second job that family members really became alarmed.

There was also a very troubling cell phone call that was reportedly made by Dru Sjodin to her boyfriend. And that cell phone call was dramatically interrupted, and she was last heard saying, "No, no, no," and then, "OK, OK, OK." And that was the end of the conversation.

Authorities were able to track that cell phone call to a location several miles away, I believe a rest stop not far away from the mall where she was working.

So from the get-go it certainly had an ominous tone, and they realized something drastic had happened. This was not the normal lifestyle for this young woman to vanish and not report to anyone. And then, of course, the evidence of her vehicle being found and her not with it and then not showing up at work. In an area where crime is very, very low, that's what has shaken this community so and that is why so many volunteers have come out and tried to locate her. But so far without success.

BLITZER: We heard the North Dakota state attorney Peter Welte say there is some indication, some evidence that would pinpoint Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., the convicted sex offender, the man now accused of kidnapping, to that parking lot outside that mall in North Dakota, even though he lives right along the border in neighboring Minnesota.

They're going to have to work out the extradition issue to bring him to North Dakota to proceed. All right. Marty, we're going to continue to monitor what's happening in North Dakota at this news conference. We'll get some more information for our viewers. As soon as we get that, we'll make that available, of course.

A very, very sad story. Heart wrenching story. All of our hopes and prayers, of course, with this young 22-year-old woman.

SAVIDGE: Right.

BLITZER: And her family.

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