AUGUSTA, MICH. - Olivet College students were in the field — and woods — with search teams looking Sunday for a man missing since 2005.
Five students were part of six search teams which walks acres of woods along I-94 in Kalamazoo County searching for clues into the disappearance on June 20, 2005 of Brandon Anderson, 21, of Battle Creek.
He was last seen running from a traffic stop just east of Galesburg Exit 88 and was never seen or heard from again.
Police believe he likely died in the woods but his body was never found. Now a class at Olivet College has begun investigating cold cases, and the Anderson disappearance is one of them.
"It is just hard," said Anderson's mother, Felicia Watkins said by telephone, "It's like reliving it over again, but I am very pleased and I am very grateful. I have welcomed that someone took an interest in trying to find out what happened to him."
She has never stopped pushing investigators to learn the fate of her son.
"He is still missing and his mom still cares," she told the Enquirer earlier this summer. "I want to know where my son is. I want some answers"
Anderson had an infant daughter at the time, and so Watkins never believed he would just voluntarily leave.
"I knew he would not leave that baby," she said. "He was so excited. I just want to know. He doesn't deserve to be forgotten. Somebody knows something."
Twelve Olivet students are enrolled in the class, Cold Case Homicide Investigation, and Associate Professor Phil Reed said five were walking the woods with search teams on Sunday.
"The family never heard from him and he has to be here somewhere," Reed said before the search.
Anderson was a passenger in an eastbound car which was involved in a hit-and-run accident near Kalamazoo early that morning and then struck the median barrier just east of the Galesburg exit.
Anderson and another man fled on foot.
Reed said for years investigators believed he ran north in Fort Custer but said the students found a statement from a Michigan State Police Trooper who believed he saw someone running south.
A second man who fled was apprehended on 42nd Street just south of East Michigan Avenue, which parallels the south side of I-94. Reed said several searches on the north side of I-94 were fruitless, so the students thought a search was warranted on the south side.
"It made sense to look where they haven't looked before," Reed said.
Jason Johnson of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) helped organize the search along with members and their search dogs from Michigan Search and Rescue.
Teams spent several hours in mostly wooded areas between Michigan Avenue on the north and EL Avenue on the south and between 42nd Street and 40th Street.
Reed said additional searches will be conducted if no evidence is found in the Anderson disappearance.
Because Anderson is from Battle Creek, the Battle Creek Police Department added his to unsolved homicides and missing person cases.
It is one of the cases given to the Olivet students to consider and review.
Reed said the 12 students in the class have divided the cases and reviewed reports and in the Anderson case interviewed Watkins last week.
"I didn't feel the emotional aspect until she came in and was crying," said one of the students, Griffin Lewis, 20, of Morrice.
He said he is interested in a law-enforcement career and that the class and now some practical experience, "prepares us for what we might see."
Lewis spent much of the day walking the woods with searchers Lisa Zang and her dog Rayna and Nate Landick.
Reed said the class is giving students an opportunity to see real cases and improve skills of organization and critical thinking.
But Reed, a retired Battle Creek Police Department command officer, said the class is more than just an exercise in learning.
"I want to solve some of these," he said.
Battle Creek Enquirer