by Jim Boyle
A search for a young girl named Daisy Jo Holland came to a tragic end on May 26, the day before Memorial Day.
The Zimmerman girl, who would have turned 2 years old on the holiday, succumbed to the murky waters of the Elk River over the long and dreadful weekend.
She went missing Friday, May 24, while her family set up camp along the Elk River at Wapiti Park in Elk River, according to Elk River Police Capt. Bob Kluntz.
Daisy Jo’s disappearance launched Elk River’s largest manhunt, and has been selected as the top news story of the year.
Chelsea Holland, the child’s mother reported Daisy Jo missing about 8 p.m. that night, touching off one of the largest if not the largest, most sophisticated multi-dimensional search and investigation in Elk River history, Kluntz said.
Authorities had reason to believe the girl may have gone into the water, but they set out on a three-pronged effort that took into account all of the grim possibilities — ranging from wandering off into the woods or, worse, being abducted by someone from the campground.
In the end, it was the river search that would uncover Daisy Jo’s lifeless body about a quarter mile downstream from where authorities believe she went into the water.
“The family was devastated when we told them the news,” Kluntz told the Star News, noting an incident like this takes a toll on law enforcement officers, too.
“We would have loved to bring that little girl home. There would have been nothing more rewarding.”
Kluntz said the real heroes were members of the Sherburne County Dive team. Their concerns stretched from the Elk River to Lake Orono that it spills into before the Mississippi River-bound water goes to the Lake Orono dam.
A heavy contingent of law enforcement didn’t sleep for 40 hours straight, choosing instead to work straight through.
Daisy Jo also captured the hearts and minds of the community and the social media world as her story went viral and helped bring about a massive response of volunteer help.
News reports and social media fueled care and concern for the girl and her family in the community and beyond. The Elk River Police Departments had 45,000 hits over the weekend. So many volunteers came out to assist on Saturday that many had to be turned away.
The number of professionals who came alongside Elk River Police, Fire and Ambulance was also impressive. More than 47 investigators, including 22 FBI agents and 10 BCA agents, followed every lead and interviewed innumerable people. There were even representatives from Team Adam, of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, including on National Missing Children’s Day that has been commemorated in the United States on May 25 since 1983.
The group Daisy Jo was with had plans to camp at Ann Lake near Zimmerman, but when that was full, three adults and six kids came south to Wapiti Park.
As the adults set up camp, the kids played at their campsite which sat along the Elk River in the north end of Wapiti Park.
“Daisy Jo was fearless and loving and curious kid like all kids are,” said Keith Holland, Daisy Jo’s grandfather. “God has his hands full with her.”
To mark Daisy Jo’s second birthday that she never had a chance to have, balloons of various shapes and sizes — most with a special message written on them in marker — were released on the shores of Lake Orono in Elk River.
Some of the balloons were released on Holland’s birthday were Hello Kitty balloons. Friends, family and community were invited to the release.
It was at 2:34 p.m. the day before on Sunday May 26, when the body of a child of similar description to Daisy Jo Holland was recovered by dive team members downstream from the campsite where Daisy was last seen.
The active search for Daisy Jo Holland concluded with this discovery. There was no indication of foul play.
Kluntz called it a tragic ending with tragic results.
Police did, however, praise the community effort that went beyond the boundaries of Elk River to search for Daisy Jo.
The Elk River Police Department and the family of Daisy Jo Holland both extended their sincere thanks to the numerous community members, public safety agencies and other organizations who assisted this investigation and search for Daisy Jo Holland.