The family of Merle Saul has put up a billboard near the Bosselman Travel Center, which is the last place he was seen, more than 4-1/2 years ago.
The 60-year-old man, whose roots are in Santee, hasn’t contacted his family since his daughter dropped him off at Bosselman’s on Dec. 12, 2015. That day, he was planning to hitch a ride to Omaha.
Saul spent a lot of time in Omaha and Grand Island. His four children and his ex-wife live in Grand Island. He served in the U.S. Army, where he was a paratrooper.
He is one of nine children, so he has a lot of relatives wondering where he went. Many of them came to Grand Island last Saturday to see the billboard and to visit the Law Enforcement Center.
Maybe her brother wanted to be homeless, Laura Calvillo said. “But he’s human. He needs to be found,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
Family members have been thorough in their searches.
In March 2016, family members prepared missing person flyers and drove to Grand Island. Traveling on Highway 14, they stopped in “every single town” along the way, said his niece Crystal Coffman. They put up fliers in gas stations, visited law enforcement centers and checked every culvert and every abandoned house along the way. A trip that normally took 2-1/2 or three hours took six hours. On one of the trips, the group headed to Omaha, where Saul has a close friend. The friend took the group around Omaha, asking about him.
Family members made two more trips to Grand Island early that year. They looked under bridges and visited the Salvation Army men’s homeless shelter and the VA Medical Center. They even went to the morgue.
A Fat Dogs employee said she had talked to Saul before he headed into Mormon Island Recreation Area. The family searched the recreation area. The manager of the Salvation Army men’s shelter said he recognized Saul.
But their searches have been unsuccessful.
Whenever an unidentified body turns up in Nebraska, family members call to see whether it might be him.
“Every single time,” Coffman said. “Every single time.”
‘A good guy’
“He was a survivor,” said his sister, Beulah Saul. “I don’t care, wherever he went, he could put a dent in people’s lives. He was really a nice guy.”
Saul liked to eat. So with him not around, the family has lost weight, Beulah joked.
“He’s a good guy,” said his brother Milton, 61.
Saul always called Coffman once a month.
He called Beulah, 57, every other week. He’d say, “Sis, it’s me. Just calling to let you know I’m still alive.”
He always called his daughters, LaKia and Katherine, on their birthdays. One event he always made it home for was the annual Sun Dance on the Santee Sioux Reservation.
“Every year while we were growing up, he would come to Lincoln and make sure we were OK,” said Juanita Coffman, a niece.
Saul bounced around a lot, but he’s a thoughtful, caring guy, Juanita Coffman said.
What else would she like to say about her brother?
“That I love him and I miss him and I wish he’d come home.”
Relatives say that Saul prefers the outdoors. He is more comfortable sleeping on the ground. Crystal Coffman wonders if his back problems dated back to his time as a paratrooper.
“To me he was a protector,” said his brother Eugene. “He protected me when I was younger.”
When Saul was younger, he would pick up odd jobs in Omaha, Crystal Coffman said.
He was a family man, Eugene said. But after he got divorced, his brother went downhill, he said.
He drank because of something that happened in the Army, Eugene said.
A red flag
Family members became concerned in January 2016, when Saul’s mail started piling up. That mail, which included his Social Security check, is sent to the home of his aunt Millie. “And so all the mail started coming in, and he wasn’t calling about it,” Crystal Coffman said.
That raised a red flag. “Because he fought for years for this Social Security,” she said. All of a sudden, he wasn’t trying to come pick it up.
After they didn’t hear from him for three months, they made their first trip to Grand Island.
Later, the family contacted a psychic, who said Saul suffered such a bad head injury he doesn’t know who he is.
When Crystal Coffman joined her relatives in searching Grand Island in March 2016, she felt an instinct that she should visit a park south of the city. But the other relatives didn’t want to go.
Crystal wishes she had followed her instinct.
“Because they always say, ‘If you get a gut feeling, God’s talking to you,’” she said.
Native Americans have a feeling when they lose somebody, Beulah Saul said.
“I don’t have that feeling. I feel he’s still alive, and he’s out there somewhere,” she said.
Grateful for help
In their search for Saul, the family is receiving assistance from Elizabeth Weidner, who’s a third-year law student at the University of Nebraska. To thank Weidner for her help, the family presented her with a star quilt last Saturday in Grand Island.
Saul is 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds. He has a tattoo on his left arm that reads “Indian born.” He is missing the end of his nose and has difficulty walking due to a case of frostbite. When last seen, he was wearing a Veterans hat.
Anyone who might know something should call the Omaha Police Department at 402-444-5636.
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