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One of the proudest moments in my 20 years at Purdue also is the saddest.

I was enormously proud this winter when the Purdue family and Greater Lafayette community reached out to help find a young Boilermaker who was missing. More than a thousand people, undaunted by arctic cold, participated in a three-week series of searches.

They searched tunnels under the campus and on the rooftops above, scoured construction sites, wooded areas and river banks. They searched on foot, horseback and using all-terrain vehicles.

The efforts were unprecedented in my time at Purdue. Most of the searchers never knew the student, but over and over I heard, "He could have been my son ? my brother ? my friend." And then tears welled up and they looked the other way.

If the kindness of strangers could have found this young man, he would have been home by now.

Wade Steffey, a National Merit Scholar from Bloomington, was reported missing when his roommate returned to campus after the Martin Luther King three-day holiday. Wade had left a low-key party early, around midnight, on Friday, Jan. 12. Some students think they may have seen him a half hour later trying to gain entry into Owen Hall, a residence hall just one building away from his room in Cary Quadrangle. He had left his coat in the friends' room.

About that time Wade made two calls from his cell phone. Both were to people who live in Owen. That is the last time anyone has heard from him.

It was apparent that Wade had never intended to leave. He had left his cell phone charger and favorite shoes in his residence hall room. He had been looking forward to the spring semester, having decided to major in aviation technology with a business emphasis. He was doing well in class and with friends.

"He was a social kid, and liked to be with people," his father, Dale Steffey, said. "He always saw things through," said his mom, Dawn Adams.

He was an Eagle Scout and ran cross-country in high school even though he wasn't the fastest on his team, they said. He earned straight As in high school. He chalked up only one B in middle school? in art ?  which brought a hesitant grin to his parents, both artists, as they retold the story.

By all accounts, Wade loved his family, he loved his friends and he loved Purdue.

The Purdue police, led by Chief Gary Evans, responded without hesitation when they learned Wade was missing. From the beginning they were determined to leave no clue unchecked. They sought and received help from area law enforcement, the FBI and Team Adam, a group of retired investigators from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They organized public searches and updated the family and the public daily. They responded to every suggestion. They tracked down every lead.

Wade's friends responded just as quickly. They launched three sites on Facebook, a Web space where Purdue students network. Through Facebook, they and others at Purdue spread the word about the police department's call for search volunteers. They organized fundraisers and sold T-shirts and bracelets. They organized a prayer vigil that brought many from Bloomington to help in the search.

Wade's story is no longer making front-page news. More searches are planned as winter gives way to spring. And spring brings new hope.

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