Missing student’s body found in Cedar Lake

By Gus Bode

Burke Wasson & Kate Galbreath

After five days searching through the murky waters of Cedar Lake, authorities found the body of SIUC freshman Brent Johnson on Thursday afternoon.

Jackson County Sheriff Robert Burns said Johnson’s body was found at 3:15 p.m. Thursday in the main portion of Cedar Lake 30 yards from the staging point of the Cove Hollow area.


Burns said Johnson’s body was immediately taken to Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, where Jackson County Coroner Thomas Kupferer performed an examination.

According to the sheriff, Kupferer is scheduled to perform an autopsy on Johnson’s body today. He said the results of the autopsy and toxicology reports would not be released for several weeks.

Illinois Conservation Police Officer Chris Mohrman said conservation officers found his body through drag bar netting in an area of the lake that is 16 feet deep. Authorities had been searching a 150-yard-wide area in water as deep as 32 feet.

Mohrman said Johnson was found in a spot that had been investigated numerous times by divers and rescue workers.

“We’d dragged around there before, but we dragged a little different [Thursday],” Mohrman said.

Burns said Johnson’s family was present when his body was recovered.

Johnson had been missing and presumed drowned since early Sunday morning after he and another person fell from a canoe in the lake.


Burns said the deceased freshman, who was a Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity pledge, was camping with 11 other pledges and three Pike members in the Cove Hollow area on the Cedar Lake shore.

According to the sheriff, the rest of the fraternity pledges and members were asleep at the campsite and unaware the canoe carrying Johnson and another pledge capsized.

Larry Dietz, SIUC vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, previously said if the Pikes’ tragic camping trip involved alcohol, the fraternity would be banned at the University.

Burns refused to comment on whether alcohol was involved in the camping trip, but he did say people who were at the campsite have been interviewed and would continue to be interviewed by police.

Eric Wulf, executive director of the national Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, said although police investigation of the incident is still continuing, he is aware of reports of alcohol being involved at the Pikes’ camping trip.

“I’m aware of alcohol being involved through various reports,” Wulf said.

“But it’s hard for us to know just yet.”

According to the Pikes’ executive director, the national organization is also conducting its own investigation into the incident.

Wulf said the national fraternity organization could also hand out its own penalties. He said the maximum penalty for an alcohol-related offense involving underage people is revoking the group’s charter.

According to Wulf, the fraternity chose to suspend itself from all University functions and events.

Dietz previously said the Pikes were suspended from SIUC pending further investigation.

University Spokeswoman Sue Davis said the University is not focusing on any punitive damages at the moment and is instead grieving with Johnson’s family and friends.

“Our thoughts are with the family tonight,” Davis said. “Definitely there will be things we discuss [today].”

Davis said she expected the administration to meet to discuss the situation early this morning.

Laura Taylor, Inter-Greek Council President press spokeswoman, said the council met Thursday evening to discuss the situation but was still unprepared to release an official comment.

Like Davis, Taylor’s mind is on offering condolences to Johnson’s family and friends.

“Our hopes and prayers are with the family right now,” Taylor said. “That’s pretty much all we have to say right now. Everyone is getting a lot of support from the greek system right now, and we really appreciate it.”

She said the Pikes are also not yet prepared to make a statement.

The SIUC chapter did, however, post a statement on the Inter-Greek Council office door Monday offering condolences to Johnson’s family and friends.

All parties involved, from the Sheriff’s Office to the national Pi Kappa Alpha organization, are relieved Johnson’s body was recovered Thursday.

“Finding the body definitely adds some finality to it,” Wulf said. “At least knowing where Brent is helps. I think the grieving process is something that the Carbondale chapter and the student community will be going through for quite some time.”

Burns said the five-day search has been a long process for everyone involved, including family, friends, law enforcement and more than 50 volunteers who helped in the search.

“This type of operation demands a lot of coordination and cooperation for all agencies involved,” the sheriff said. “I would like to thank those who stepped forward in a time of need and supplied their services.”

Mohrman, who was the first officer to arrive at the campsite after one of the Pikes made a 911 call to report the drowning, said after working more than 60 hours on the case, he is ready to go home.

“I never expected it would end this late,” Mohrman said.

“But we do this for the family. It’s just good we got him back.”