Search for Brendan Santo nears 3 months after disappearance on Michigan State campus

Police continue search for 18-year-old Grand Valley State student

It’s been nearly three months since Brendan Santo was last seen at Michigan State University, but there’s still no sign of the missing Rochester Hills student.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – It’s been nearly three months since Brendan Santo was last seen at Michigan State University, but there’s still no sign of the missing Rochester Hills student.

UPDATE: Body believed to be Brendan Santo found in river months after disappearance

Santo, 18, disappeared just before Halloween, during the busy weekend of the Michigan vs. Michigan State football game in East Lansing. Investigators said they’re still doing everything they can to find him.

“It’s not every day that a young college student goes missing without a whole lot of leads,” said Chris Rozman, of Michigan State University police.

Santo, a student at Grand Valley State University, went to visit friends Oct. 29 at Yakeley Hall. He left the dorm shortly before midnight, according to authorities.

Click here to visit the “Bring Brendan Santo Home” Facebook page.

“He had intended to walk back to the Brodie neighborhood, which was less than a half mile west southwest of Yakeley Hall,” Rozman said. “He never made it to that destination.”

Campus security cameras weren’t working in the area where Santo’s cellphone was last detected, police said.

By Saturday afternoon, police had a full-blown missing person’s case on their hands. They now believe Santo was in the area of Beal Street and Michigan Avenue, which isn’t far from Yakeley Hall.

“Some of his friends did report him missing,” Rozman said. “We’re not going into detail in terms of who those people were specifically, but they were acquaintances of Brendan who reported him missing initially.”

Where was Santo before he went to the dorm, and who was he with earlier that evening? Police aren’t sharing everything about the investigation, since it’s still ongoing.

“Those are things that are part of the investigation that we’re aware of that we are just not necessarily discussing publicly at this time,” Rozman said. “With any criminal investigation, we have to be careful of the information that we have. If there is information that we have that we believe the public should be aware of, that would help the investigation in some way, then we will release that information.”

In the days and weeks that followed Santo’s disappearance, family members, police and hundreds of volunteers organized several searches. They’ve combed the surrounding area on campus, with the primary focus being on the Red Cedar River. Divers started searching the river the Monday after Santo vanished.

“There are a lot of challenges in searching the Red Cedar River,” Rozman said. “The river is a lot wider and bigger than a lot of people realize. But the current of the river itself is about 5-6 mph, so it does have a current. The depth of the river is 8-12 feet, at times, and the visibility is 0-2 feet.

“There are also a lot of obstacles present in the river and other underwater entanglement hazards that present a lot of danger for the divers. So we have utilized not only canines, but sonar and other underwater technology to assist us in identifying areas of interest to put divers in the water.”

Rozman said Santo had an iPhone with him when he went missing, but that phone hasn’t been found. His credit card hasn’t been used since Oct. 29, just before he disappeared, police said.

“Our MSU police, digital forensics and cybercrime unit have worked very close with the Michigan State Police Technical Services Unit, and they have utilized advanced techniques to review cellular smartphone and GPS data,” Rozman said. “But we’re very comfortable that we have all information that’s available from Brendan’s digital footprint that evening.”

So, is this a criminal investigation?

“That’s a difficult question,” Rozman said. “I mean, at this point, this is not a criminal investigation. Our investigative work has been reviewed by other local, state and federal agencies, and our law enforcement partners, and we still have no reason to believe that foul play is involved, at this point.”

As the weeks pass without any sign of Santo, the mystery surrounding his disappearance grows.

“We can’t even comprehend what the family’s going through, at this point,” Rozman said. “Our hearts and our thoughts go out to the Santo family.”

Police remain diligent in their promise to continue the search and do whatever they can to bring Santo home.

“It’s a credit to the family and their friends that have helped them to keep the message out there, and I know that there’s some groups on social media that families connected to and that have really done a lot to get the word out and to raise awareness for this case,” Rozman said. “We support that. The more attention it gets, the more (likely it is that) somebody out there who we may not have heard from would do the right thing and reach out to us with information.”

Police said they’re planning to search the Red Cedar River area again, when the weather permits.

Submit a tip

There’s a $20,000 reward offered for information that leads to Santo’s discovery.

Here’s how you can submit a tip:

  • MSU Police: Call 844-99-MSUPD or email
  • Crime Stoppers (anonymous tips): Call Crime Stoppers of Mid-Michigan at 517-483-STOP or visit the website here.
  • Anyone who sees Santo is asked to call 911 immediately.

About the Authors:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.