Where is Wade Steffey?
Search will resume this morning
Graduate student Will Strattner had never heard of Wade S. Steffey before this week and, at first, did not fret over news of the 19-year-old's disappearance.
Then he read a campuswide e-mail sent Thursday morning that asked for the Purdue University community's help in a grid search to find the Bloomington native.
The freshman was last seen or heard from early Jan. 13.
"You can think of all the bad things that might have happened to him, but what we need to focus on is finding him," said Strattner, an aviation major, like Steffey.
Strattner was one of more than 350 people -- among them students, faculty and local residents who do not know Steffey -- who helped in the extensive search from the far western edge of campus to the Wabash River and Lafayette.
So many people showed up to help that those who arrived late had to be turned away.
Emergency responders plan to map out any areas that haven't been checked and head out again this morning, university spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said.
Thursday's three-hour search turned up at least one cell phone, a watch and car keys, but nothing that authorities suspect belongs to Steffey.
"It does show that everyone was searching hard and searching well," Norberg said.
Police also took a PHI Air Medical helicopter, which is based at the Purdue airport, over campus after dark to search with infrared equipment.
Chief Gary Evans of the Purdue University Police Department said it is confirmed that Steffey was last seen with friends late Jan. 12 at a Phi Kappa Theta fraternity at 900 David Ross Road in Tower Acres, about a half-mile from his Cary Quadrangle residence hall.
They got a tip Wednesday night that someone matching Steffey's description was outside near the northwest corner of Owen Hall, possibly trying to open a door, according to his parents, Dale Steffey and Dawn Adams of Bloomington.
The girl who reported it was expected to be interviewed Thursday night.
Last known activities
Norberg said the last call made from Steffey's cell phone was to the room of a female friend at Owen Hall, where he had left his coat before going to the party, but the girl did not answer. No message was left, but the timestamp of the call was 12:31 a.m.
About 10 minutes prior, Steffey had called another friend with whom he had initially discussed playing cards with that night, his parents said. They spoke for no more than 10 seconds.
Purdue police Capt. John Cox said investigators already have spoken to several people who were at the party and continue to talk to more.
During a briefing prior to Thursday's search, Evans said police now know that Steffey made a $50 withdrawal from an ATM in Ford Dining Court about 8:30 p.m. that Friday -- not 1:11 a.m. Saturday as previously thought.
The later time is when the information was downloaded by the bank.
"He swiped to eat dinner at Ford, so we believe he went to the ATM after," Evans said. "The times seem to add up."
Including police, firefighters and other emergency responders from all local agencies in Tippecanoe County, nearly 500 people were estimated to have helped in Thursday's search.
They divided into five teams to search the following areas:
McCormick Woods at the northwest edge of campus;
Horticulture Park, also along McCormick Road to the south;
Russell Street, just west of the academic campus, to the high ropes course near Purdue airport to the south;
The eastern edge of West Lafayette to the Wabash River and Lafayette; and
From the police station on Intramural Drive to River Road, covering the south end.
Evans instructed searchers to look for a silver, flip-style Verizon phone that belongs to Steffey.
Capt. Tim Potts urged them to watch for anything out of the ordinary -- clothing, wallets, keys.
Dale Steffey, Wade's father, accompanied one of the groups, though his wife couldn't because of a recent hip replacement.
Thankful for help
They said words can't express how thankful they are for all the people who came to help search.
"It's really humbling and very heartwarming to see all of the outpouring of support for Wade," Adams said. "I'd like to say it's overwhelming, but that's not even the right word.
"All of this has been very overwhelming."
Adams said she is convinced her son's disappearance is suspicious and that he is being held against his will.
"He didn't have his coat, his cell phone charger," she said. "He left the lights on, his computer on."
He currently is not dating anyone, though as recently as winter break was seeing a high school girl in Bloomington.BoilerStation - Purdue University News, Sports, and Information from the Journal and Courier.