GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The private detective who found the body of Brendan Santo told News 8 it would not have happened without his wife’s insistence.
“One night she just looked at me and said, ‘If anyone can find Brendan, you can. Ryan, go and find this boy,’” recalled Ryan Robison, the private investigator whose underwater camera found Santo’s body in the Red Cedar River Thursday.
“(My wife) followed this case since day one. She knew more about this case than probably anyone,” he said. “Everyone is thanking me non-stop. But I am not there if she doesn’t say that to me. And without that line, there is no Brendan going home now. I may have found him, but Katie, my wife, is the reason he is able to go home.”
Robison, who’s been working with Santo’s family, said he’s reluctant to speak extensively with reporters because he wants to ensure the focus stays on Brendan.
“Brendan was and is loved by so many people. He was truly a wonderful young man … a unique and very special person,” said Robison.
Santo vanished on Oct. 29 from the Michigan State University campus, where he’d gone to visit friends.
The 18-year-old freshman at Grand Valley State University was last seen leaving an on-campus dorm not far from the Red Cedar River, which runs through the MSU campus.
Robison, 48, had been working on the Santo case for 15 days when his underwater cameras captured what he thought was Santo’s body submerged in a logjam.
MSU police said the spot was 1.5 miles downriver from Santo’s last known location.
“(The logjam) was so dense and unpredictable it was a challenge to get the cameras through the debris,” Robison told News 8, adding the deadfall at its start was approximately 70 feet wide north to south and 50 feet east to west.
Robison told News 8 he was on the structure six to seven times and used an ax, 16-pound ice chisels and saws to break through the ice and debris.
He worked at night twice because he thought his lights would be more effective in the dark.
On Thursday, when the private detective saw what he suspected was Santo’s body, he first went to the Santo home in Rochester Hills to notify the family.
He then called 911 to report his discovery and share with police the underwater picture and exact location where it was taken.
When MSU Police announced Friday divers had recovered Santo’s body, the agency did not acknowledge it was a private investigator who directed them to it.
Some of those who’ve closely followed the search expressed their frustration over MSU’s omission on social media.
On Saturday, Michigan State Police Inspector Chris Rozman issued a second statement.
“We wanted to provide some additional information on the search operation yesterday,” began Rozman’s statement.
“The spot where Brendan was located in the logjam had been an area of significant interest for law enforcement, search teams, and the Santo family,” wrote Rozman, noting there was a “complex law enforcement search operation” planned for that specific area of the river the week of Jan. 24.
Rozman said they planned to clear logs and debris first to make it safer for divers and allow a boat to enter the water.
The inspector went on to credit Ryan Robison for locating Santo’s body.
“Immediately after Brendan was located, we were not sure if Ryan or the Santo family wanted this information known publicly. Our original news release said that we have worked collaboratively with the Santo family and their supporters, and that partnership was essential in our effort to find Brendan. Not only is that statement true, we cannot thank Ryan enough for his relentless efforts,” Rozman wrote.
In earlier news releases, MSU police described the water search as “complex and challenging.”
“We have used sonar, canines, and other underwater technology as part of the river search to identify areas of interest in the water. While we have searched these areas of interest in the Red Cedar with divers, it is not possible to search the entire river with divers. Challenges of searching the river is the current, depth, visibility, obstacles present, as well as other underwater entanglement hazards. We have consulted with engineers and water experts as part of our search operation to determine next steps,” wrote MSU Police in a statement released on Nov. 1.
In the statement released Friday following the recovery of Santo’s body, MSU Police said they still have no reason to believe foul play was involved nor that Santo intended to harm himself.