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ackie Pagel (left) releases a bundle of balloons during a candlelight vigil for her sister Gina Anderson on Saturday night in Thief River Falls. Friends and family gathered as a way to keep hope alive and to remind the public that they are still searching for Anderson, who disappeared in October 2008. (Sarah Kolberg/Grand Forks Herald)

Family, friends gather to keep hope alive for missing Thief River Falls woman

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THIEF RIVER FALLS -- It's been more than 10 months since Thief River Falls resident Gina Lin Anderson disappeared without a trace, but family and friends say they continue the search for clues and answers into what happened last Oct. 23.

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A prayer vigil was held Saturday evening at the Thief River Falls Gazebo near St. Bernard's Catholic Church, both as a way of keeping hope alive and a chance to remind the public that the search is still ongoing.

Gina's mom, Judy Lappegaard, told the Herald that the months of searches and public pleas for information have resulted in numerous tips and some rumors, but no solid leads or discoveries. More than anything, she said the family just wants to know the truth.

"We would like some closure, we would like some answers," she said. "If she is out there and alive, we'd like that person to come forward so we could get her back home."

Awareness

Jeremy Anderson, Gina's husband, said he wants to make sure people are aware that they haven't given up hope. "We want to keep people aware that she is still missing and we're still looking," he said. "We're not going to stop until we bring her home."

Jackie Pagel, Anderson's younger sister, said some of her friends from the Minneapolis area helped to organize the vigil that had been discussed for months. Planning the event was put on hold when the youngest of the three sisters, 22-year-old Jill, died in a car accident last December.

She said many people want to help but there are few opportunities besides searching the area around Thief River Falls. The vigil gave people an outlet to do something and also let the family members talk about Gina "in ways that we haven't been able to express to the public," she said.

Jackie is only three years younger than Gina, and all three sisters had a close relationship even when living in different cities. "That's how most families that have three girls are," she said. "We were all very close."

"Not ready to say goodbye"

Raising hope

Danielle Peterson, Jackie's friend, said the two grew up together and she wanted to find a way to help the family. "I just wanted to do something to raise hope and awareness," she said. "We need to keep looking even though it's been 10 months."

Peterson sang five songs during the hourlong vigil in front of about 100 friends and family. There were moments of hope throughout the gathering -- friends recited poetry and scriptures that offered the message of hope in the midst of trying times -- but the mood was somber, and many people's eyes were teary by the time family members took the microphone.

Judy said right away that it was hard to know what to say. She wrote three letters that she thought about reading, but threw them all away because none seemed right.

She did end up reading a letter to the attendees, which reminded her of how she coped with another family tragedy. "When I lost Jill, it was a letter that I read to her because I had to say goodbye," she said. "But I'm not ready to say goodbye."

Gina's stubbornness is what she'll miss the most, Judy said, as well as her giving personality. She said she has had to become the "rock" that keeps the search ongoing since the passing of Jill.

"Jill wanted to find Gina," she said. "She never got to finish her job."

Jackie read "In Time of Need," a prayer that was given to her by a spiritual healer as she's tried to deal with Gina's absence. One line seemed to show the distress of the family: "We are in crisis and need a supporting hand to help us every day and night," she read.

She said she was trying to get Gov. Tim Pawlenty to send the Minnesota National Guard to the area so a full search could be conducted within a 100-mile radius of Thief River Falls. That attempt didn't work, so Jackie asked those in the audience to contact local and state leaders for help in making the full search a reality.

Prayers, tears

Most of all, she said she wants to keep everybody aware of Gina's absence. "Just keep praying that she'll be found," she told the audience as she choked back tears.

Gina Lin Anderson has been missing since Oct. 23, 2008, and was 32 years old at the time of her disappearance. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighs about 165 pounds and has blonde hair and blue eyes.

She was last seen leaving her home in her yellow 2002 Pontiac Sunfire with Minnesota license plate number 224AEA. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information about her disappearance, and anyone with information is asked to call the Pennington County Law Enforcement tip line at (218) 681-6161.

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