Msg 1 Posted: 09:50 AM 04/05/07 (CST)
This is a very sad story for anyone but if you have ever met Bill, like I have, this story will be very hard to read. Our prayers go out to Bill, his family, friends and co-workers.|
Four days of searching the Mississippi River have not turned up any clues in the disappearance of an owner of a well-known Fridley fishing tackle store.
But family and friends are holding out hope that Bill Fiebranz, 38, will soon return to his Blaine home, and to work at Thorne Bros. Custom Rod and Tackle.
"We miss him, and we just want him to come home," said Jenny Lewnau, who is Fiebranz's stepdaughter.
"We are asking people to keep his family in their prayers and hope for the best," said Josh Roundsley, co-owner of the shop with Fiebranz. "We're pretty close here. It's like another family."
Fiebranz's wife, Pamela Fiebranz, reported him missing at 3:40 p.m. Thursday, according to police in Blaine. He was last seen at 7 a.m. last Tuesday at the store, which is often cited by Field Stream magazine as one of the top 10 bait-and-tackle shops in the nation.
Pamela Fiebranz told police that calls to his cell phone had gone unanswered, authorities said. It was uncharacteristic of her husband to be gone without telling her because he is paraplegic, she told them.
The family first contacted police after about two days had passed because that's the customary time requirement before authorities will consider an adult to be missing, said Lewnau, who is Pamela Fiebranz's daughter.
Blaine police contacted the General Motors OnStar dispatch center requesting they search for Fiebranz's 2005 Silverado pickup truck using the vehicle's global positioning system.
At 4:08 p.m. Thursday, Sherburne County sheriff's deputies found the empty truck on Minnesota 24 at Clearwater, Minn., near a boat landing on the Mississippi River. They found what they believe is his wheelchair partially submerged off the ramp.
Area rescue crews searched the Mississippi on Thursday and Friday by sonar and boat and with dive teams. On Monday, the Minnesota State Patrol used a helicopter to search a stretch of the river between Clearwater and Anoka.
It did not appear Fiebranz was fishing or testing equipment at the ramp, said Blaine Police Chief David Johnson, nor was there evidence pointing to suicide.
"Foul play is not suspected," he said. "But we don't know what the circumstances are. It's an open missing-person investigation looking at all aspects of what could have occurred."
He said he was unsure if boat or dive searches would resume because the Mississippi's waters are high and moving fast.
Roundsley said nothing appeared amiss when he last saw Fiebranz on Tuesday morning. It was a hectic week, Roundsley said, as the store prepares for a large fishing show. He and other staff thought Fiebranz had an appointment, he said.
Fiebranz and Josh Roundsley bought Thorne Bros. in 2004. Roundsley described Fiebranz, who had worked there for more than 15 years, as a fixture of the store.
"He is a great friend and business partner," Roundsley said. "He took his job very seriously and was very good at what he did."
Fiebranz was a rod maker and managed the rod shop before buying the store, when he assumed many of the company's financial operations, Roundsley said. He is also, of course, an avid fisherman.
"We all are here," Roundsley said. "You don't buy a tackle shop and not fish."
The store is cited often by fishing enthusiasts in magazines, Internet chat rooms and blogs as a must-visit site if you're in Minnesota. Many of Thorne Bros.' 15 employees are well-known in different areas of the fishing world for their mastery in making specialty jigs or rods, Roundsley said.
In recent days, the store's focus has turned to Fiebranz.
"With the hours we keep, we're very tight," Roundsley said.
Fiebranz is described as white, 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 185 pounds, with brown eyes. He is paraplegic and unable to walk, the result of injuries suffered in a snowmobile accident.
Authorities are asking anyone with information about Fiebranz's disappearance to contact the Blaine Police Department at 763-785-6168 or the Anoka County Sheriff's Office at 763-427-1212.
Dave Orrick contributed to this report.
Mary Bauer can be reached at email@example.com or 651-228-5311.