Authorities in southern Minnesota say they are expanding the search to find 30-year-old Nyawuor “Sunday” Chuol. The Mankato woman has been missing since April 25 when she told family that she was going for a walk, but never returned home.
During a news conference Wednesday, law enforcement officials said they plan to conduct a shoulder-to-shoulder search of the shoreline along Eagle Lake where there’s heavy brush. They are also asking local residents in rural areas to check their sheds and farmland.
Chris Baukol, commander of the Mankato Department of Public Safety, told reporters that on the day she went missing Chuol took three rideshares to a Casey’s gas station in Eagle Lake, Minn. which is several miles east of downtown Mankato.
“That Lyft driver was interviewed and they had indicated that Nyawuor was looking specifically for Eagle Lake, as in the body of water, not the town itself,” Baukol said. “She never did enter the store. She's not seen with anybody else. Ultimately she's seen walking towards Highway 14 and crossing that highway.”
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Chuol was last seen on surveillance footage at 8:45 p.m. Her cellphone communications ended about an hour after being dropped off at the gas station.
Chuol is five feet and nine inches tall. She was last seen wearing a pink hat, blue jacket, black leggings and brown boots. She also carried a white or tan over-the-shoulder bag. Chuol is known as Nyajouk in the South Sudanese community, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office, Mankato Department of Public Safety, Minnesota State Patrol and other partners have been conducting searches near Eagle Lake.
Capt. Paul Barta of Blue Earth County said that they’ve been in constant communication with Chuol’s family.
He said there’s nothing to indicate foul play was involved and nothing has been ruled out, including the possibility that Chuol may have left the area. However, he said authorities need to ensure that their search is thorough and complete.
“When you have a case like this, when you have an incident like this that you’re working on, it doesn’t leave your thoughts, conversations with families every night,” he said. “When you’re not working, you don’t stop thinking about it and you want to bring closure to the family, whether it’s good news or bad news. You want to come to a culmination for them and for Sunday.”
Investigators have conducted ground searches using ATVs and other equipment. A Minnesota State Patrol helicopter has searched the area by air. Several DNR officers used shallow boats to search nearby bodies of water for any signs of Chuol. However, Barta said that the terrain made search efforts more challenging.
Holding onto hope
Nyawaraga Chuol, Nyawuor’s sister, told reporters during the press conference that it was “out of character” for Nyawuor to just leave home and not return.
“She’s very blunt and very outspoken. She will tell you what she needs and what she wants to do,” Nyawaraga said. “She’s not going to just go with the flow, and so if she wanted to leave, she could have said it and she could have gone. This isn’t normal. This isn’t something [that she has done before.] This whole thing is surreal and surprising.”
Nyawuor’s family moved to the United States in the early 1990s, first having lived in South Dakota before moving to Minnesota in 1997, where her father accepted a pastorship in the Twin Cities, according to news reports. Nyawuor graduated from North Park University in Chicago, and worked at a book-making factory.
The family says they are grateful for the amount of support that they’ve received from communities in Eagle Lake and beyond, including neighbors and friends who came from St. Cloud to post flyers. Nyawaraga said she is holding onto hope that her sister will come home.
“I want to find the answers, but finding her [in the lake] means that she’s gone,” she added. “So, I don’t want to find her there. So hopefully, she’s out there and that’s what I’m going to focus on is that she’s out there.”
If you have any information that can help in this case, please contact the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office at (507)-304-4800.