The body found in a field near Alexandria Monday is that of University of Minnesota-Morris student Laura Schwendemann, who had been missing for nearly two weeks, family members confirmed.
A farmer discovered the remains while harvesting in his fields Monday afternoon, Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen said in a statement, noting the remains appeared to be that of a woman in her late teens or early 20s.
In a statement Tuesday, Wolbersen said the sheriff's office has "reason to believe" it has located Schwendemann, however it is waiting further confirmation from the Midwest County Medical Examiner's office, which will release the official identity and cause of death of the victim.
"Although we may have entered into the next phase of the investigation, the case remains open and active," Wolbersen added. "Again, we do not have reason to believe that the general public is in danger and our focus is now why and how this young woman died."
Family members and the Schwendemann's church community have confirmed the remains belong to the 18-year-old woman, the Star Tribune reports.
Beth Aaberg, who identifies herself as a relative of Schwendemann, wrote in a Facebook group dedicated to her, saying:
"We all prayed so hard for a much better outcome... we all wanted to find Laura safe... this wasn't to be.... Laura Schwendemann was found today and our family will bring her home and lay her to rest... we ask for ongoing prayers and support from our friends and family as well as the community. She was an amazing sweet talented young lady."
A gathering is planned for Wednesday night at Fron Lutheran Church in Starbuck, according to flier posted on Facebook.
Investigators and volunteers had been searching in the area where the remains were found since Schwendemann went missing the evening of Oct. 14. She was last seen at a gas station in Alexandria that night, and authorities say she drove off with a male acquaintance, but perhaps not voluntarily, police have said.
Douglas County officials have spoken with that man, and because he was the last known person to be with Schwendemann, he “continues to be a person that we are interested in and are investigating,” a news release Monday morning said.
The release noted:
“Although we are not ruling out other scenarios, we have not received information that would substantiate that Laura is being held against her will. We have not received information that would substantiate that Laura left by her own decision and is evading being found.”
Authorities say the two of them left together in a 1997 black Geo Prism, which has since been located. Police say they believe the two drove around southern Douglas and northern Pope counties overnight and into the morning of Oct. 15, and are asking the public for any information about where the vehicle might have been between 9:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 10:30 a.m. Oct. 15.
Investigators are also trying to identify a blue house with a 3-foot-tall statue at the end of the driveway, noting Schwendemann may have been observed in that general area.
Officials have conducted air searches of large areas, as well as ground searches in areas based on information they have received. They had also asked farmers and hunters in the area to keep a lookout for anything suspicious.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office at 320-762-8151 or the Pope County Sheriff’s Office at 320-634-5411.