All-night search in SSP finally locates snoozing boy

It was, in the words of Tommy Lee Jones' character in "The Fugitive," a search of every "residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse" and garage and shed in the area.

And thankfully for all concerned, it turned up its young target unharmed.

All hands on deck

A 911 call came in to South St. Paul police at 11:52 p.m. Aug. 13 from a mother who'd been searching frantically for her 8-year-old son, who'd last been seen playing with other kids outside a house a few blocks away from their home on the 900 block of Ninth Avenue around 9 p.m.

The mother reported the boy's younger brothers thought he might have gone to a friend's house, but she'd contacted his friend's homes in the neighborhood multiple times before calling police.

The boy's name, released along with a description of his clothing and bicycle during the search, is Fa'Shawn Johnson.

South St. Paul Police Chief William Messerich said considering the gravity of the situation, the department called in its reserves and called for mutual aid from surrounding communities: West St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights, the Dakota County Sheriff's Department, South Metro Fire Department personnel and the BCA and State Patrol.

"It was a yard-by-yard search," Messerich said. "When you're searching for a missing child you look everywhere."

Police fanned out to Lorraine and Clyde Lake parks, the woods around the city's water tower, and local residences, backyards and structures in between. They checked out Bethesda Lutheran and Holy Trinity Catholic churches, buildings under construction and residences known to be vacant.

Street and alley patrols checked parked cars and stopped vehicles leaving the area. A State Patrol helicopter with spotters hovered over the neighborhood.

Still, the hours ticked by with no sign of Fa'Shawn.

Daybreak saw foot and squad patrols still scouring the area, and finally, just after 7 a.m. an officer saw a bicycle resembling the description of Fa Shawn's outside a residence.

"He was found at a friend's residence a few blocks away from his home," Messerich said. "The officer spotted a bicycle similar to what he was last seen with in front of a house and knocked on the door. The boy was found inside, asleep."

Messerich said it appeared this had not been one of the friends the boy's family was aware of; police had also followed up with those contacts at the start of the search.

The outcome of the massive response was a relief to exhausted officers and reserves, some of whom Messerich noted had to start their regular morning shifts after the night on foot.

"It was certainly an eye-opener for those who hadn't been in the situation before, and we're just glad the outcome turned out the way it did."

Does he think Fa'Shawn -- and other area youngsters -- may be reminded strongly to keep parents aware of their whereabouts after this?

"Let's hope so."

Holly Wenzel can be reached at or at 651-748-7811.


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