Missing teen found in Red Cedar River

Petition started to make river area safer

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published January 21, 2022


Police have recovered the body of missing Rochester Hills teen Brendan Santo, who disappeared while visiting Michigan State University last October.

Police said Santo’s body was discovered by Ryan Robinson, a private investigator working with the Santo family, while reviewing underwater video at a jogam in the Red Cedar River, about 1.5 miles downriver of where the teen was last seen in October.  

The Michigan State University Police and Public Safety Department said Robinson notified 911 centers in both Ingham and Oakland counties of his discovery at approximately midnight on Jan. 21. 

Multiple dive resources were then rounded up by police to explore the area, and the body was recovered at around 12:30 p.m. Jan. 21 in the logjam. 

Michigan State University Police Inspector Chris Rozman said the medical examiner positively identified the body as Santo based on dental records Jan. 22.

The logjam “had been an area of significant interest” for law enforcement, search teams and the Santo family, according to authorities, who noted that a “complex law enforcement search operation” that was to involve clearing logs and debris “to make it safer for divers and get a boat in the water” had been planned for that area of the river the week of Jan. 24.

Although investigators said they have no reason to believe foul play or self-harm were involved in Santo’s disappearance, authorities are continuing to investigate. 

Anyone with information is asked to call 844-99-MSUPD or email tips@police.msu.edu. People can also contact Crime Stoppers of Mid-Michigan at 517-483-STOP or the MSU Police and Public Safety Department at (517) 355-2221.

Santo, 18, a student at Grand Valley State University, was last seen Oct. 29, just before midnight, in the area of Yakeley Hall on the campus of MSU. 

The search for Santo — conducted by the MSU Police and Public Safety Department, along with local, state and federal agencies — lasted over 80 days and included efforts by foot, drone, helicopter and boat, and utilized K-9 units, divers and civilian volunteers. 

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team assisted in the search and recovery process, spending 11 days and more than 800 hours, “with some team members working 14 hours a day,” according to Sheriff Michael Bouchard. 

“During the 11 days, the team used multiple search and rescue boats and trailers and sonar as well as chainsaws, lifting and recovery equipment to help move debris and trees from the river,” Bouchard said in a statement. “Our deepest sympathies are with the family and his friends. We know that there is a void they will never fill from this tragedy but sincerely hope this brings them a sliver of peace.”

In an online post, Santo’s family thanked everyone for their “support and kindness to bring Brendan home.” 

“This is not the outcome we had hoped but we do have closure now,” Santo’s family posted online.

Santo, a freshman at Grand Valley State University, was a 2021 graduate of Rochester Adams High School. 

Rochester Community Schools Superintendent Robert Shaner notified district families of the loss in a Jan. 23 email, saying the district’s “thoughts and prayers remain with Brendan’s family and friends during this very difficult time.”

“Our sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to the Santo family. There is no greater loss than that of a child,” Shaner said in the email.

He encouraged district families to reach out to their school administrator or email their student’s counselor for assistance with grief.

MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said Santo’s disappearance impacted many across the university community. 

“While the news today may bring some closure to such a tragic incident, our hearts ache for the Santo family, Brendan’s loved ones and friends. We kindly ask our community to respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” he said in a Jan. 21 statement.  

“We want to thank everyone who has contributed in some way to the search efforts to date, including our campus partners, the volunteers who posted flyers across our community and joined the search efforts with us and the Santo family, and every law enforcement agency who dedicated time and resources to bring Brendan home. This entire effort was a collaboration between many law enforcement groups, the family and their resources and countless volunteers.”  

At press time, a petition was circulating online urging officials to “Make MSU’s Red Cedar River Areas Safe” by adding barriers, lighting and signage along the Red Cedar River, which reportedly has a steep ravine near Yakeley Hall. The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/msu-students-make-the-red-cedar-river-safe.

MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Service is available 24/7 by calling (517) 355-8270. The MSU Employee Assistance Program is available by calling (517) 355-4506. Students at Grand Valley State University can contact the University Counseling Center at (616) 331-3266.