If there is one thing Gary Arnold would like the world to know, it’s how much he and his family have appreciated the outpouring of kindness and generosity they have received in the month since the disappearance of his wife, Sherry.
“I want to express gratitude in every way to the people of this community, the people of the surrounding community, the people of Montana and this region,” Arnold said last week.
“I don’t know if I can express it, but I want to thank them,” Arnold said in an emotional telephone interview.
It has been a long, hard month for Arnold and the community of Sidney, where Sherry was a popular math teacher at the high school. The only trace of her that has been found since she failed to return from a morning run Jan. 7 is a running shoe.
Two Colorado men, Lester Vann Walters Jr., 47, and Michael Keith Spell, 22, have been charged with aggravated kidnapping in the case. No details have been released about how they were linked to Sherry Arnold’s disappearance.
Arnold declined to say whether investigators have given him any more information than has been released to the general public.
“They have filled us in in any way they feel they can without jeopardizing the investigation,” he said. “The last thing we want is to jeopardize the investigation. We are being as patient with that as we can.”
Arnold said he and his family are holding up with the support of the community.
“I think we’re all of us doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances,” Arnold said.
He said he’s been embraced by fellow employees in the school district.
“I’m trying to keep my head above water as much as I can,” Arnold said. “But there are times I can’t concentrate at work. They understand. They take care of me.”
Trauma and sadness were felt throughout the Eastern Montana school district, where both Arnolds have been longtime employees. But school Superintendent Daniel Farr said things are going well under the circumstances.
“That’s because we keep checking on each other,” he said. “Everybody is dealing with Sherry’s loss in different ways and that’s healthy.”
A recent math graduate has been hired to fill the hole in the faculty. He’s a local man with a good understanding of the community and its tragedy, Farr said.
What everyone wants now is closure, and for that, Sherry needs to be found.
“There is one thing people can do, especially in northwest North Dakota,” Arnold said. “If they would search their property, their shelter belts for any disturbed area.”
Shortly after Sherry Arnold disappeared, law enforcement officials asked landowners between Sidney and Williston, N.D., to search their property for anything that might look unusual.
“We did it as soon as we were asked,” said Margaret Anderson, who farms with her husband, Gilman, south of Alexander in McKenzie County, N.D. “I’m sure our neighbors did, too.”
Gilman Anderson drove around their property near Highway 68 and that of a deceased neighbor, but didn’t find any sign of a disturbance.
In another part of the northwest county edged against Montana, Leif Jellesed got in his pickup and made a search of his property near Highway 1806 E.
His place is 85 miles from Sidney, and he thinks the likelihood of finding Sherry in his neighborhood is slim. But he looked anyway.
“I believe just about everybody who lives out here did,” he said.
But finding her could be difficult anywhere in northwest North Dakota, he said.
“We had a lot of water flowing through here last spring, and now we have a lot of tall grass,” he said. “It would be pretty easy to hide someone out here.”
Jellesed added that ground is disturbed everywhere in that part of the state because of energy development.
“The oil fields out here are tearing up land right and left,” he said.
It would have been easy for Sherry’s abductors to find a recently dug-up area and burrow through the already disturbed soil to hide her, he said.
“It’s been a real sad situation,” he said. “I hope they find her.”
Sidney may be across the state line, but its tragedy has touched North Dakota in more ways than one, he said.
“I call it ‘We don’t live in Kansas anymore,’ “ Jellesed said. “We never used to lock our doors, and we left the keys in our vehicles. Now everybody cringes when somebody drives in the yard.”