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Missing woman from Thief River Falls prompts help from group specializing in searches

This photo of Gina Anderson, a missing Thief River Falls woman, was taken during Christmas 2007.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Gary Peterson, a trained volunteer with the nonprofit Texas EquuSearch drove up from his Spring Valley, Minn., home Sunday to Thief River Falls to meet with family members of Gina Anderson.

"We bring resources to the table," Peterson said. "Like organizing a search, if we had a definite area. And we kind of train the family in whatever they are doing to try to find the missing person, advice on posters, for example, and dealing with the media."

Anderson, 32, last was seen in mid-afternoon Oct. 23, leaving her house in her bright yellow Pontiac Sunfire.

On Sunday, her husband, Jeremy Anderson, was at Gina's parents' home in Thief River Falls. He and Steve and Judy Lappegaard, and their daughter, Jill Lappegaard, who lives with them, sat around for hours reviewing things with Peterson, after showing him her home and where she worked.

Today, Peterson plans to meet with law enforcement officers working the case. "The sheriff's department asked us a couple weeks ago to come up," Peterson said.

Ray Kuznia, an investigator with the Pennington County Sheriff's Office, confirmed that the private Texas group was contacted.

Started in 2000, Texas EquuSearch now travels internationally. In 2002, an

EquuSearch team spent three days searching Grand Forks for evidence in the disappearance of Russell Turcotte, a Montana man last seen and heard from at a truck stop in Grand Forks. His body was found months later about 65 miles west of Grand Forks; his homicide remains unsolved.

Peterson, a retired TV news director in Austin, Minn., was in Florida this fall, part of EquuSearch's effort to find Caylee Anthony, the toddler missing and presumed dead.

Last week, he was in Iowa looking for a missing young man.

Despite the group's name, horse-mounted searches are a minor part now of the nonprofit's work, which includes motorized vehicles and aircraft, such as a low-flying drone, or unmanned, helicopter that use high-speed photography for surveillance, Peterson said.

The group always works closely with the family of the missing person, as well as law enforcement, he said. All its services are free and the group operates on donations.

"Our commitment is to help this family," Peterson said.

It's well-appreciated, said Steve Lappegaard.

He said the latest reported sighting of his daughter was Wednesday in Fergus Falls, Minn.

A woman called in to say she thought she saw Gina in a Holiday gas station there hours before. Apparently, BCA agents will review surveillance video at the store today, he said.

But after seeing dozens of similar tips the past six weeks not pan out, Lappegaard isn't pinning his hopes on this one.

"In Fergus Falls, I would think she would be pretty well recognizable, so I really don't look for a lot of stuff out of it," he said. "It's a sighting, a possibility."