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Body of missing Bellingham woman is found

BELLINGHAM -- A month-long search for a 79-year old Bellingham woman ended Saturday when the body of Verene Raaf was found in a pasture near the South Dakota border.

Raaf hadn't been seen since about 10 p.m. on Dec. 19, when she left the Madison hospital after receiving a blood transfusion. She was a diabetic and may not have had her medications with her at the time.

It's still not known exactly how Raaf ended up about 35 miles in the opposite direction of her home.

The initial investigation indicates that Raaf's vehicle traveled in farm fields, crossed a county road, entered another farm field and traveled through a pasture fence before ending up in a pond in a pasture about four miles northeast of the border town of Gary, S.D.

Lac qui Parle County Sheriff officials said Raaf's 2004 Buick LeSabre was partially submerged in the pond. Raaf was apparently able to get out her vehicle and walked about 100 feet, which is where her body was found.

"It's been a long month," said Jan Kirchberg, Raaf's daughter, who lives in Bellingham.

"I'm glad we found her, but I'm sad we found her."

Kirchberg said she is "so thankful for all the people who had looked and prayed."

Air and ground searches had been conducted, primarily on rural roads and fields in between Madison and Raaf's rural Bellingham home.

"There wasn't a building site in the whole county that wasn't checked," said Kirchberg, who said her mother was well-known in the community for her baking and love of fishing. She said the support of people in her hometown during the past month has been "unbelievable."

Kirchberg said she has no idea why her mother went in the wrong direction and ended up on the western most edge of Lac qui Parle County. "I would have never went and looked that way," she said.

The landowner was outside and "just happened to see something," said Kirchberg, who said she will travel today to the site where her mother was found.

She said she got the news around noon on Saturday when Lac qui Parle Sheriff Graylen Carlson knocked at her door.

She and her children spent Sunday going to through family photos in preparation for the funeral. Arrangements are pending finalization of the investigation.