Posted 1/18/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
When the news broke on Jan. 7 that Sherry Arnold, 43, of Sidney, Mont. had been reported as missing when she did not return home after going out for an early morning run, the hearts of everyone is eastern Montana and western North Dakota stopped beating.
What had happened to Sherry Arnold was the topic of every conversation. Everyone had more questions than there were answers as the local law enforcement officials and the FBI had very little to say. Had she been abducted? Was she alive? While it was known that one of her shoes had been recovered along a drainage ditch where she frequently ran, that was all that anyone knew for over a week.
As more days went by and no official reports were forthcoming, it became painfully obvious that Sherry Arnold would not be coming home to her family or to her community.
When the FBI and Sidney law enforcement officials finally did make an announcement this past Sunday, eight days after she was reported missing, the news was as bad as it could get for Arnold’s family and friends. The FBI was confident that she had been kidnapped and that she was dead. But to make the tragic news even more unbearable, they had no idea of where her body is.
With that dreaded announcement, memories of another abduction reverberated across the region as we remembered the agonizing search for the body of Dru Sjodin. Sjodin was a University of North Dakota student who was kidnapped from the Columbia Mall parking lot and killed by Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a registered sex offender in 2003.
The only good news is that there are two men from Parachute, Colo., who are being held in the Williams County Jail while they await extradition to Montana to face aggravated kidnapping charges.
So where is the body of Arnold? That is a question that everyone involved wants answered as quickly as possible. The body could be buried in or around Sidney. Or according to the FBI, it could also have been buried in McKenzie, Williams or Mountrail counties. To cover such a wide search area would be a monumental task, which is why the FBI is requesting property owners in northwest North Dakota and northeast Montana to search their vacant farmsteads or along shelterbelts for signs of disturbed soil where Arnold’s body may have been buried.
Let us hope and pray that property owners do check their buildings and their property and that Arnold’s body can be returned to her family as quickly as possible.
The tragic kidnapping and death of people like Sherry Arnold is something that just doesn’t happen in this part of the United States. When something this horrendous happens it tears away the innocence that has become the fabric of our communities.
But as we now know all too well, this part of the country is being forever changed with the development of the oil patch. And not all of the changes are for the better as we have seen an alarming increase in crime and violence. That is not to say that everyone who is moving to western North Dakota and eastern Montana to find work are bad people. Far from it, there are many very good and decent people that are moving here.
But we also know that some of the new people who are coming here have long rap sheets and criminal backgrounds. And when the good folks of this area encounter these individuals our naivety and innocence becomes quickly apparent.
The people of western North Dakota and eastern Montana are adapting to the changes and to our new neighbors, but we are losing something very precious in the process.
We are losing our innocence. It is a tragic loss. Sherry Arnold paid the price of the loss of that innocence with her life. Let’s hope and pray that loss is never repeated.