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Friday, July 21, 2006

David Francis's son missing in the Mountains

Pioneer Press here.

Family financing search for son
Officials call off rescue effort for mountain climber because of lack of resources; Parents seek help
Pioneer Press

Jon Francis' family knows he reached his goal — the peak of Grand Mogul in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.

He had climbed about a dozen mountains in the range before, but this was his biggest one yet. So the 24-year-old signed his name in the book that sits at the nearly 10,000-foot peak and wrote: "Glory to God."

That is the last the Stillwater Township family knows of his whereabouts.

The law-enforcement search for Francis, who was working at a Bible camp near Ketchum, Idaho, was called off Tuesday night for lack of resources, leaving frustrated family members to search on their own with two hired guides and four volunteers Wednesday.

"We need help," said Francis' mother, Linda Francis. "It's just very difficult, because we have no manpower, and there's so much area to cover. We just want our son — we just weren't willing to give up after two and a half days."

State Senate candidate David Francis, Jon's father, thinks his son had trouble descending the steep, rugged mountain and still is alive.

He said his family needs helicopters and more guides so they can send more volunteers to search.

"We want our son off that mountain," Francis said. "We're frustrated. We went from a search-and-rescue to a family-financed affair."

Jon Francis works as a youth minister at Ascension Lutheran Church in Ogden, Utah, but has spent the last four summers working as a counselor at Luther Heights Bible Camp in Idaho.

He told camp co-workers he planned to return from his hike later Saturday, but he did not show up. They reported him missing Sunday afternoon.

Authorities found Jon Francis' vehicle in a parking lot at Redfish Lake, where he boarded a shuttle to the hiking area. Searchers took to the air and ground and used dogs around Grand Mogul Mountain on Sunday but found no sign of him.

Francis graduated in 2000 from Stillwater Area High School, where he was a member of the cross country, track and Nordic skiing teams. He received his bachelor's in 2005 from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he was active in youth ministry.

David Francis, who is running as a Democrat for the state Senate District 52 seat, said he and his wife knew his son had a gift for ministry when he worked with the homeless when he was in high school. "We're so pleased that he decided to pursue that as a career," David Francis said.

Friends gathered Wednesday night at Stillwater's Episcopal Church of the Ascension, where the Francis family worships, for a prayer vigil to support them.

Many also were calling congressional and governors' offices in Minnesota and Idaho with pleas for help or pressure to restart the law-enforcement search.

"People ask me, 'Well, why can't you get helicopters up there?' " David Francis said. "I know the Forest Service has helicopters, but I can't force them to take to the air."

Megan Boldt can be reached at or 651-228-5495.

As soon as I find out where people can send donations to help the Francis family, I'll post the information. Also, I encourage readers to call Governor Pawlenty's office to ask him to do what he can to encourage the Forest Service to do the right thing.

Ken Avidor and I interviewed David Francis a while back and posted a video of the interview.

UPDATE: I called Governor Pawlenty's Office and they are on this case, and have been discussing the issue with the Francis family. The Governor has been in touch with the Idaho governor - and I understand now there are resources going to this search.