#childsafety | Prayers and searches for missing Michigan student

Brendan Santo joined the many others on Oct. 29 who flocked to East Lansing a day before the much-anticipated football game between Michigan State University and its rival, the University of Michigan.

He left Grand Valley State University on the state’s west side to stay with friends amid the weekend excitement. But long before kickoff, even as crowds coursed through campus on a Friday night, the 18-year-old from Rochester Hills vanished.

His disappearance has sparked searches; a multi-jurisdictional investigation including the FBI; an $11,000 reward for tips; more than $90,000 in donations to an online fundraiser aimed at aiding the efforts; and a pledge by MSU officials to immediately install more than 300 new security cameras.

Another wide-scale search was planned Sunday at the university, a day after scores gathered for a vigil at Rochester Adams High School, where Santo graduated.

Brendan Santo was last seen late Oct. 29.

As time passes, his friends, family and an army of strangers are ramping up their work to spread the word online and across the state, vowing to find him.

“We don’t know what happened to him. We don’t know where he is,” said his aunt, Dawn Brewer. “We just need that one person with that one lead to help the police go in the right direction to bring Brendan home.”

The Rochester United hockey team, whose members are friends Brendan Santo, attend a prayer vigil on the football field at Adams High School in Rochester Hills on Saturday.

Brewer launched a Facebook group dedicated to the cause soon after Santo was reported missing and has been consumed with tasks she never imagined: rallying volunteers, helping coordinate search routes, ensuring posters displaying her nephew’s picture are distributed across the region. 

His face has appeared on billboards and even a scoreboard, Brewer said. Meanwhile, supporters have routinely shared the case on social media or canvassed part of MSU’s nearly 5,300-acre campus. 

The weekend after Santo’s last known appearance, hundreds picked up flyers at the student union then ventured out to search. 

Dozens gather for a prayer vigil, in honor of missing student Brendan Santo, on the football field at Adams High School in Rochester Hills, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

Among them was Jerry Shiroda, who works with the teen’s father, and his wife. The couple donned safety vests to seek clues in a field, brush, even a dumpster.

“In situations like this, you feel so helpless,” he said.

Soon after hearing about the missing teen, Jennifer Alter, whose son played hockey with Santo on the Rochester United varsity team, corralled his teammates and drove more than 80 miles to MSU to search.

“It’s just hard not finding him,” she said. “You just never think it’s going to happen to your community.”

Rochester United hockey player Shane Arbour, who is a friend of missing student Brendan Santo, talks about Santo during a prayer vigil on the football field at Adams High School in Rochester Hills on Saturday.

The 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, Brewer said.

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