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Published August 08, 2013, 05:42 PM

Search called off for missing East Grand Forks boy

Volunteers searching for the missing rural East Grand Forks boy, Anthony Kuznia, 11, have been recalled, according to officials and volunteers.

By: Herald Staff Reports, Grand Forks Herald

Volunteers searching for the missing rural East Grand Forks boy, Anthony Kuznia, 11, have been recalled, according to officials and volunteers.

East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund would not confirm if the boy had been found, though volunteer searchers had their suspicions.

"I searched four times today. I was ready to search again, and they told me they didn't want any more people signed up," said Jamie Cordell, a volunteer from Grand Forks. That's when he knew the boy had been found, he said.

He said he'd lost his daughter, Meagan, two years ago when she was 12, and, like Kuznia, she had a disability. Among the searchers, he said, were educators who had worked with his daughter. "These people really care."

Polk County Sheriff Barb Erdman and Chief Deputy Mike Norland, who is leading the investigation, was seen paying a visit around 4:30 p.m. to Kuznia's home, where he lived with his grandmother. Family members were also seen gathering there.

Officials are expected to make an announcement regarding the search at 5:30 p.m. at East Grand Forks' VFW Arena, which has served as volunteer central.

Kuznia, who was autistic, has been missing since about 2 p.m. Wednesday. Law enforcement officials and volunteers searched through the night and into Thursday. By Thursday afternoon, more than 320 volunteers had signed up to search for him, according to local officials.

Kuznia’s church, United Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, is holding a prayer service for his return at 7 tonight, Pastor Karla Coen-Tuff said. The church is at 4th Avenue South and South Chestnut Street.

Many volunteers have signed on for two to three shifts as they comb the fields and woods south of the city.

According to authorities, volunteers are working in shifts, searching one-mile stretches along roadways just south of East Grand Forks, then returning to the VFW about 45 minutes later.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and are asked to dress in long pants, long-sleeve shirts and sturdy shoes, according to East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund.

Volunteers continue to trickle in to East Grand Forks’ VFW Arena, which is serving as volunteer central during the search. The American Red Cross is serving food.

While civilian volunteers are searching along roads, law enforcement officers are searching other areas, continuing efforts made overnight.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter, equipped with thermal imaging equipment, was flying over the area today.

Law enforcement, with the help of sonar equipment had searched a three-mile stretch of the river Wednesday, but found nothing, according to Hedlund.

Kuznia went missing about 2 p.m. Wednesday when his grandmother reported that he had wandered from his home.

Law enforcement and volunteers searched until dusk Wednesday. Law enforcement then continued searching until about 2:30 a.m., in an area southeast of East Grand Forks.

Law enforcement will search areas in heavier grass and trees, and along the Red River. About a dozen horses, part of a mounted posse, also are assisting, according to Hedlund.

Hedlund said air, ground and water resources would be tapped again today to find Kuznia, who has autism.

Late Wednesday, cries of “Anthony! Anthony!” came from law enforcement officers and volunteers walking through farm fields and wooded lots around a rural residential strip south of East Grand Forks.

“A young kid like that can be awful creative,” Sheriff Erdman said this morning, adding officials planned to recheck areas that were searched Wednesday.

As a matter of routine, authorities also checked with all registered sex offenders in the areas Wednesday, and found no cause for additional investigation into that area, according to Hedlund.

They also searched homes of family members, also as a matter of routine, he said. Other home searches are planned today. Officials also searched several locked vehicles in the area.

While they were not able to search all of them Wednesday, that process would continue today.

Anthony is known to like exploring tents, RVs, cave-like places and basements of homes, Erdman said family members told her.

He has been known to wander off and hide before, she said.

Erdman, in charge of the large multi-agency effort that includes Border Patrol agents and aircraft and Minnesota State Patrol resources, as well as volunteers, said she was grateful for the rapid and “tremendous response” from partner agencies and volunteers willing to help search. She hopes the boy’s picture, released shortly after Kuznia was reported missing, will help lead to his safe return.

Despite the lack of results Wednesday, Erdman said she is still viewing the case as primarily a missing child incident and said there is no indication of foul play.

“We have a kid who walked away,” Erdman said.

The boy’s home is about two miles south of East Grand Forks at 19147 Rhinehart Drive, about three-fourths of a mile east of the Red River.

Anthony was wearing a gray T-shirt with black lettering and plaid shorts, his grandmother told Erdman.

He was described as white, about 5 feet tall and 94 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.

Despite his autism, Erdman said, “he is quite social,” though he is reported to have trouble walking and expressing himself.

Anyone with information on Kuznia’s whereabouts should call (218) 339-3456.