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Hope remains, but no evidence of missing Cottage Grove native Danielle Jelinek

It wasn't like Danielle Jelinek to just disappear.

The Cottage Grove native and Park High School graduate was living with her sister Cory in Oakdale and would talk frequently with family, relatives said.

Then Jelinek went missing early Sunday, Dec. 9, from the home of an acquaintance in rural Chisago County.

More than a week after she was last seen, hundreds of volunteers have scoured snow-covered ditches and fields and police have searched homes and done other investigative work, without any sign of the 27-year-old Jelinek.

Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan said authorities continue to investigate, while acknowledging there has been no evidence found pointing to Jelinek's whereabouts.

"I tell the family to keep their hopes up," Duncan said Monday. "We haven't found anything that tells us she's deceased, but I'm also letting them know to be prepared. You have to be prepared."

Friends and family gathered Monday evening for a prayer vigil for Jelinek at Five Oaks Church in Woodbury.

More than 100 volunteers -- relatives and friends of Jelinek along with people who had never met her -- spent three days last week looking for her. As volunteers fanned out in groups, Ed Jelinek said it is out of character for his daughter to go several days without being in contact with family.

"Never like her, not to call her mother," he said during a Dec. 12 search.

The search for the 2003 Park High School graduate focused on an area near a home where authorities were told Jelinek was last seen in Chisago Lake Township, south of Chisago City and northeast of Forest Lake.

The house belongs to Aaron Schnagl, an acquaintance whom authorities said was with Jelinek late Saturday, Dec. 8, and early Sunday, Dec. 9, at Minneapolis bars before returning to his home.

Duncan said authorities were called to Schnagl's home that Sunday afternoon to check on Jelinek's welfare after her sister, Cory, could not reach her.

Jelinek's car and some personal possessions including her shoes, cellphone and purse were found at the home. Schnagl told authorities Jelinek left early Sunday, after 4 a.m., but said he passed out so didn't know where she went. He has not cooperated with the search, Duncan said.

"It's basically trying to sort of which are lies and which are the truth," Duncan said of the little information authorities received from Schnagl.

Schnagl was arrested after authorities searching the home for Jelinek found "a good amount" of marijuana and ecstasy, Duncan said. Schnagl was transferred to Anoka County jail on drug charges and a probation violation.

Duncan said Schnagl is a "person of interest" in Jelinek's disappearance. Authorities found evidence of blood in Schnagl's home, but the source was unknown. The samples, which were not visible to the naked eye, were being tested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Duncan said. He noted that it is not unusual to find traces of blood in any home.

Authorities also found blood in Schnagl's car, but suspected that to be animal blood. That also was being tested by state officials.

"We have no evidence of foul play yet, other than drug activity," Duncan said. "There has been no evidence of a struggle or anything like that."

Authorities are separately investigating Jelinek's disappearance and the drugs found in Schnagl's home.

Duncan called off volunteer ground searches after three days last week because there were no more "mass areas" they needed large groups of searchers to check.

"When we get tips to look at a certain area or certain section of land, we send out our public safety guys to search those areas," he said.

The initial search was hampered by 18 inches of fresh snow. Volunteers walked through knee-deep snow, poking poles and hockey sticks through the snow to look for any sign of Jelinek. Warm weather and rain then melted a significant amount of that snow, but there still was no sign of Jelinek early this week.

Optimism that Jelinek would be found safe had waned over time.

"We're getting to the point that if Danielle is out in some remote area, chances are she's DOA," Duncan said Monday.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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