Body believed to be Brendan Santo found in river months after disappearance on Michigan State campus

18-year-old Grand Valley State student went missing nearly 3 months ago

During this Jan. 21, 2022, search of the Red Cedar River, police found a body they believe to be missing teenager Brendan Santo. (WDIV)

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Police said a body they believe to be Brendan Santo has been found in the Red Cedar River nearly three months after he disappeared on the campus of Michigan State University.

“The Santo family has been informed and we are providing them with as much information and support as possible during this difficult time,” police said in a release. “We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Santo family and all those who knew Brendan.”

Santo, 18, of Rochester Hills, disappeared just before Halloween, during the busy weekend of the Michigan vs. Michigan State football game in East Lansing.

“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.

Officials focused their search on the Red Cedar River, and they recovered a body believed to be Santo around 12:30 p.m. Friday (Jan. 21).

Police searching for Brendan Santo near the Red Cedar River on Jan. 21, 2022. (WDIV)

Foul play is not suspected at this time, authorities said. An autopsy is pending.

Police said their search led them down the river about a mile and a half west of where Santo was last seen. Debris -- mainly trees and brush -- had gathered in the area and needed to be cleared to get a boat in the water, according to officials. That’s where they located the body.

Santo’s disappearance

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

“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 believed Santo was in the area of Beal Street and Michigan Avenue, which isn’t far from Yakeley Hall.

Officials search the Red Cedar River for missing teenager Brendan Santo. (WDIV)

“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.”

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

Grief services available

“We know this news may be difficult for those within our campus community and beyond,” police said in a release. “It’s important to remember that the grief some individuals may be experiencing is normal and there are a number of ways in which individuals can seek support, including talking with friends, family and colleagues to process this.”

Michigan State University statement

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. and police Chief Marlon C. Lynch released a statement that reads, in part:

Brendan’s disappearance on Oct. 29, 2021, impacted many across our university community. While the news today may bring some closure to such a tragic incident, our hearts ache for the Santo family, Brendan’s loved ones and friends. We kindly ask our community to respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.

“We want to thank everyone who has contributed in some way to the search efforts to date, including our campus partners, the volunteers who posted flyers across our community and joined the search efforts with us and the Santo family, and every law enforcement agency who dedicated time and resources to bring Brendan home. This entire effort was a collaboration between many law enforcement groups, the family and their resources and countless volunteers.

“We know this news may be difficult for those within our campus community and beyond. It’s important to remember the grief some individuals may be experiencing is normal and there are a number of ways in which individuals can seek support, including talking with friends, family and colleagues to process this. Additional resources include MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services for students and our Employee Assistance Program for employees. Our Residence Education Staff are also available to listen and support our students during this process.”

Oakland County Sheriff statement

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard released the following statement regarding the recovery of the body.

“Our search and rescue team joined with other agencies in a coordinated effort to help bring closure to a grieving family.

Our team which totaled 10 deputies, spent 11 days and more than 800 hours -- with some team members working 14 hours a day -- in the effort to find this young man. Our deepest sympathies are with the family and his friends. We know that there is a void they will never fill from this tragedy but sincerely hope this brings them a sliver of peace.”

Previous coverage

Michigan State University said some security cameras weren't working when Brendan Santo disappeared.
It’s been two months since Brendan Santo went missing on Michigan State University’s campus, and the reward for information that leads to his discovery is growing.
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.

About the Author:

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.