A year ago Sunday night, UND President Charles Kupchella stood inside the Gamma Phi Beta sorority house not knowing one of his own students and his university were about to be thrust into the white-hot spotlight of national interest for all the wrong reasons.
At the time, he and everyone else in the room had only one thing on their minds: Find Dru.
Kupchella and his wife, Adele, along with University Police Chief Duane Czapiewski, Lillian Elsinga, dean of students office, Eric Mansager, school counseling center, Cassie Gerhardt, coordinator of campus Greek Life and Erinn Haskstol, sorority adviser, were called to the house after 22-year-old Dru Sjodin vanished a day earlier after leaving the Columbia Mall.
It's not atypical to see such an outpouring of support from UND leaders. For 20 years, the school's Crisis Team has been reacting similarly as situations arise.
But Kupchella said there were signs that night that something terrible had happened. Many in the room knew that Sjodin hadn't reported for work at the El Roco night club, and about an abruptly silenced cell-phone call to Sjodin's boyfriend, Chris Lang, after Sjodin inexplicably blurts out "Okay, okay," and a second cell-phone call from Sjodin with no words. They're all details that the public would learn over the next several days.
"None of us knew for sure what had happened," Kupchella said. "We all feared the worst, so we offered what ever solace we could."
Elsinga remembers the strength of the sorority members that night, and how they pulled together for their lost sister.
"They had already been sending fliers around the campus and as far away as Crookston, ... only a few hours after she was missing," Elsinga said.
"It was an overwhelmingly solemn mood that night, but it was a mood that 'we are all going to find Dru, and we all pray for her recovery.'"
Safe and safer
UND officials are quick to stress that their school is safe and below the national average when it comes to campus crime. They also remind that what happened to Sjodin, a graphic arts major from Pequot Lakes, Minn., happened off campus.
But Chief Czapiewski said that some changes have taken place on campus over the past year as a direct result of Sjodin's abduction and murder.
He said there now are more emergency telephones on campus and the school now emphasizes more than ever its on-campus shuttle bus service, Safe Ride program and 24-hour police escort service.
He said the extra advertising seems to be paying off. Shuttle bus ridership on campus in September 2003, before Sjodin disappeared, was about 10,000 students. This past September, ridership was up 63 percent to 27,0000 students.
There also has been a considerable up-tick in usage of UND's Safe Ride service, which sends 15-passenger vans on demand to pick up and transport people during evening and early morning hours.
Figures supplied by UND's Transportation Department show a 21 percent increase in usage for the Safe Ride service so far this year. Also, last year, average monthly ridership for Safe Ride increased 22 percent, or 244 riders, in the months after Sjodin's abduction compared with before.
However, Kupchella says, some things haven't changed. He still sees students not taking proper precautions on campus when venturing out alone after hours.
"I just have to shake my head, thinking to myself 'you ought not be alone," he said.
Czapiewski said some people don't want to be victims of fear.