Friends and relatives of Ralph Bell, the 24-year-old man who went missing from his Stillwater apartment Dec. 20 and was found dead in Roseville March 22, came to the Stillwater City Council meeting July 16 seeking answers.

Bell’s mother, Corhea Taylor, alleged she was not taken seriously when she filed the missing person report. 

“They did not believe my son was missing. I kept reaching out to them and they were not taking me serious at all. . . I’m broken hearted. I looked for my son for three months, three long months and they found him a mile and a half away from where they found his car abandoned.”

According to police reports, Bell left his apartment Dec. 20 after an argument with his fiancee. His car was found in Roseville with the doors open and the motor running. According to Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway, the missing person investigation started immediately; six days later an investigator was assigned full time. The Police Department conducted nine search warrants, searched the frozen river with a hovercraft and an airboat, and searched in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hopkins, Roseville, Blaine, Rochester and Duluth as well as Stillwater, keeping the Roseville Police apprised and involved. He said 45 people were interviewed at least once and 70 interviews were conducted overall. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also was involved.

Bell’s family claimed from the beginning, they had to initiate the volunteer searches and push for answers. Had the investigation been handled differently, they said, Bell may have been found sooner or his death may have been prevented.

“My brother never (went) to jail. He never had any altercation with the police, never. I just want to know why did you guys handle the situation how you did?” asked Bell’s sister, Isabella Taylor. “You guys did not take this case serious at all and that’s why we are here today, because he didn’t deserve that. He’s supposed to have gotten the same treatment as the next person.”

Earlier in the meeting, the Council presented the annual Human Rights Award to Melanie Ebertz, a founding member of Fundacion Comunidad, for her work with indigenous people of the Peruvian highlands whose lives and communities were decimated by the Shining Path terrorist group. The foundation has improved the lives of hundreds through nutrition, sanitation and education. Ebertz’s company, ArtAndes, provides Peruvian textile cooperatives and artists access to U.S. markets. 

“This community has been open armed and very hospitable to my guests that have come here from the Andes over the years,” Ebertz explained. “My own experience from having non-white, non-English-speaking guests stay with me every year for the last 20 years, is this community has been very welcoming.”

Master weaver Wilber Quispe, who has visited her every year since 2003, told Ebertz that until he’s on his final flight among Minnesotans, he’s not really comfortable. Quispe was at the Council meeting; he sang a song of gratitude in Quechua, his native language.

Ebertz said Quispe has told her, “People are different here.”

She said, “I like to think that is how we are.”

In other business, the Council honored Stillwater native Mitch Reinke, a member of the St. Louis Blues hockey team that won the 2019 Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup will be coming to the Stillwater Rec Center on Monday, July 22. Beginning at 10:45 a.m., the first 300 people will receive a ticket allowing them to get their photo taken with the trophy.

After a closed session, the Council also approved a conditional use permit for the historic armory on Chestnut Street that includes a craft distillery, eight apartment units and other uses, as well as a parking agreement with CVII Holdings, owners of the armory property and an adjacent parking parcel. Earlier this year, CVII Holdings had commenced a civil action against the City challenging its previous denial of the application for a conditional use permit. 

The Council adopted an agreement that outlines the City’s intent to assemble parcels adjacent to the parking parcel for future public parking. CVII agrees to convey the parking parcel to the City, and the City agrees to lease the parking parcel back to CVII Holdings to ensure that the parking area will be preserved for the benefit of the armory property.

The agreement acknowledges that the City has “no imminent plans” to install a public ramp and “considers it unlikely” that the public ramp would be installed within the next five years.

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