Gone without a trace: Joshua Guimond’s 19-year disappearance fuels Minnesota father’s lawsuit and quest for truth
Brian Guimond said he does have a theory as to what happened to his son, but at this point, he’s tight-lipped. He does believe the truth will come out — although, he doesn’t believe it will be the result of the investigation currently being handled by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office.
Nineteen years after Joshua Guimond went missing from Minnesota’s St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, Brian Guimond is on a mission to find his son — and highlight what he sees as inadequacies in an investigation that has failed his family.
A lawsuit filed against the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office in March on behalf of Brian Guimond seeks the release of the investigative file into the disappearance of Joshua Guimond — a suit that will continue to gain steam in January 2022 as it goes before a judge for a scheduling conference.
Joshua Guimond went missing the evening of Nov. 9, 2002 after leaving an on-campus gathering at a neighboring dorm hall. While his friends assumed he had slipped out to the bathroom, Joshua Guimond never returned to the party — and has never been seen publicly since that night.
He left, seemingly, without a trace. His vehicle remained parked on campus. His keys were found securely in his apartment, along with his glasses, contact lenses and wallet, which included his credit cards and identification.
Regarded as an exceptional student with aspirations of law school and a life in politics, friends and family members say he was a responsible individual who didn’t behave irrationally. While alcohol was consumed prior to his disappearance, those who were with him that evening claim they did not observe him to be intoxicated.
In the days following his disappearance, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office — led by Sheriff Jim Kostreba — focused entirely on a theory that Joshua Guimond fell into one of the campus lakes while making the three-minute walk back to his residence.
To this date, Joshua Guimond’s body has never been discovered.
“Back on day one, hour one, Kastroba was the sheriff, and he said, ‘He’s in the lake, end of story,’” Brian Guimond said. “There was no investigation.”
While the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office maintains the investigation into the disappearance of Joshua Guimond remains active, Attorney Mike Padden, who is representing Brian Guimond, is skeptical.
“We want to see it ourselves, and see if we can figure it out,” Padden said. “To be frank, we don’t really trust them to be competent.”
Part of that broken trust is rooted in what Brian Guimond learned long after the disappearance of his son — that a building just a short walk away from where his son lived housed Catholic monks facing credible allegations of sexual abuse. On Oct 1., 2002, St. John’s University reached a settlement of “several allegations of abuse against the abbey,” according to a statement released by the university in 2003.
Those allegations — and names of alleged perpetrators — have been slowly released throughout the years, with the latest update in 2017. To date, the Abbey has released the files of 18 monks who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, according to the Minnesota Transparency Initiative.
Stearns County Sheriff’s Office Andrew Struffert, who is handling the Joshua Guimond case, indicated his department was thorough in their investigation of St. John’s Abbey buildings and those it housed, despite the lack of public transparency into the allegations being dealt with at the time.
“At this point, we have no evidence that shows that any of the staff members or any of the monks were involved whatsoever,” Stuffert said.
Trust was further eroded through Stearns County Sheriff’s Office’s handling of the Jacob Wetterling case, which had been labeled a failure by once-interim Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson. After 27 years, the Wetterling case came to a close with a confession from Daniel James Heinrich.
“Our whole goal is to get their investigation file, and they’re fighting us on it. They don’t want us to get it,” Padden said. “With everything that has happened with Jacob Wetterling, these people just don’t have a good track record.”
The disappearance and investigation
Roughly fifteen minutes after Joshua Guimond left the gathering at Metten Court, his friends attempted to call the college junior at his St. Maur House apartment but received no answer. They assumed he had gone to bed, until the next morning when he didn’t show up to mock trial practice.
That evening, after he had been missing for 24 hours, his friends reported his disappearance to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. A search party for Joshua Guimond began Monday, Nov. 11, 2002, which included the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, the local National Guard and volunteers from the community.
While portions of the 2,500-acre wooded area around the campus were searched on foot and horseback, divers focused on Stumpf Lake, which ran between St. Maur House and Metten Court.
At that time, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office ran with the theory that Joshua Guimond ended up in the lake on his own accord. Alcohol was considered a factor by investigators.
Brian Guimond claims it was that narrow vision that halted the type of investigation that his son deserved — one that should have included the possibility of foul play.
“The first twenty-four hours are the most critical, and they just kept saying, ‘He’s in the lake,’” he said. “Well, where’s your evidence? They just kept saying, ‘He’s in the lake.’ They just kept repeating it.”
Taking matters into his own hands, Brian Guimond and the Find Joshua Fund lobbied to have The Trident Foundation, considered the country’s premier water-based crimes investigative organization, brought into the helm. After seeking approval from the Stearns County Board and St. John’s University, the Trident Foundation was allowed to do a full investigation of the three university lakes in May 2003. No evidence related to the disappearance of Joshua Guimond was found.
Following the extensive search, Trident Foundation Executive Director Scott Romme said that his organization’s search — paired with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office efforts — should steer family members, the community and law enforcement to explore other avenues.
From Brian Guimond’s standpoint, that didn’t happen.
A father’s fight
Armed with years of collected documents and a deep aching grief, Brian Guimond has never stopped searching for answers over what happened to his son on that cold November night in 2002.
In the years following the Trident Foundation search, he and others continued to be met with the likely explanation that his son had fallen into the water and had possibly gotten stuck in the mud.
In November 2004, Brian Guimond took that theory to Bradley Wenz of the Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation District, who indicated that soil capable of drawing a person in had not been identified in Stearns County, according to a letter sent by Brian Guimond to Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch in 2005.
“A year and a half after the lakes were cleared by Trident, Sanner was still sticking to the story that he fell into a swampy area,” Brian Guimond said. “So then I got a hold of the Soil and Water guy and he said, “No, we don’t have any soil like that in this county.’”
Brian Guimond also questions why the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office waited nearly two weeks to speak with the students his son spent time with before he went missing.
“The last nine people to see him, they didn’t even get talking to them for two weeks after the fact,” he said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you needed to talk to these people now. I mean it’s just one thing after another.”
For two years, Sheriff Sanner was adamant that Joshua Guimond’s disappearance was not the result of abduction. However, in 2005, Sanner did indicate that Joshua Guimond was considered a missing person and that it was possible that he could have disappeared by abduction.
Since the initial search of the lakes, there has been no new evidence or updates on the case presented to the family or the public.
As far as allegations of sexual abuse against monks who lived on campus at the time of his son’s disappearance, Brian Guimond said that was information that should have been on the record.
“I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but it should have been made public,” he said. “Their story was, well we monitor our own. Well, that’s the fox being put in charge of the hen house.”
Brian Guimond said he does have a theory as to what happened to his son, but at this point, he’s tight-lipped. He does believe the truth will come out — although, he doesn’t believe it will be the result of the investigation currently being handled by Stearns County Sheriff’s Office.
Response from Stearns County Sheriff’s Office
Struffert took over the case into Joshua Guimond’s disappearances more than a year ago as part of the Sheriff’s Office regular case sharing practice.
When he received the case file, he said he spent a lot of time combing over the details — and from that analysis, created a new set of action items to tackle.
“I’m checking those items off, and I can assure you they are still being worked on,” Struffert said. “That case is getting a complete review by a new set of eyes, by a new person.”
Struffert admits this case offers its own set of obstacles, largely because of the lack of body and official crime scene. Nearly 20 years from the date of Joshua Guimond’s disappearance, there are currently no suspects.
“We have interviewed a lot of people over the years, and I wouldn’t say at this point there are any suspects,” he said. “Ya know, this case is unique compared to a lot of others with the lack of physical evidence that we have at the scene, and that makes this difficult. And even as time progresses, as you go further and further out from the date of the incident, it makes it much more difficult.”
Some of those interviews have come in the last few years, Struffert said. However, he noted that he generalizes interviews into a category that could include a potential witness, other students or anyone who was in the area at the time of Joshua Guimond’s disappearance.
“What I’m categorizing as an interview is just speaking with anybody in reference to this case,” he said. “So, yes, there have been follow-up interviews. And even from the very beginning, friends and family were interviewed. We haven’t done many of those recently, but even the friends at some point are going to be re-interviewed.”
One aspect of the case that has changed is access to new technological capabilities. That is an element that’s being looked at in this case, particularly as it relates to Joshua Guimond’s computer, which the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office has sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
“That is continuing to be gone through to this day,” Struffert said. “They’re sifting through the mountains of data. So yeah, it makes me hopeful that we can talk to people who maybe haven’t been spoken to before.”
In the meantime, Brian Guimond and Attorney Mike Padden will continue their quest to put someone else in charge of the investigation.
“My client doesn’t think they’ve done a competent investigation, and we should be permitted, perhaps with some limitations as to what we can do with it, to be able to do our own investigation,” Padden said. “Look at the Jacob Wetterling case. Once the file was released, everyone realized what a debacle that was.”
Padden and Brian Guimond share the belief that, without the release of the file to an outside investigative entity, the truth might never come out.
“They’re just hell-bent on not giving it up, which guarantees that this case won’t be solved,” Padden said. ”I think that they’re concerned that if it does get solved with the release of the file, it’ll be a further embarrassing moment for their agency.”
The scheduling conference in January 2022 will set a date for a hearing, at which point a judge will interpret the statute Padden and his client are citing in support of their case. Padden said if the court doesn’t rule in their favor, he and his client are poised and ready to appeal.
“Our position is that at this point the case is essentially over,” he said. “They haven’t done anything substantive for years, and we should be entitled to get the file.”