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Family grateful for community response in finding missing Woodbury teen

A Woodbury teen who was reported missing early Tuesday evening has been safely found.

State Patrol located 18-year-old Austin Sager Wednesday afternoon in Eagan — several miles from where he was reported missing in the Woodbury area and less than 24 hours from when he went missing.  

Aside from some soreness and fatigue, Sager was in good health when authorities found him around 2 p.m.,his mother Lori Sager said.

She reported him missing to police just before 8 p.m. Tuesday when he didn’t return home earlier that evening.   

He is known for taking long walks and bike rides, and Lori Sager said that he walked from Woodbury to the Cathedral of St. Paul but got turned around on his way back.

The officer who found Austin Sager reportedly recognized him walking near Interstate 494 and Dobb Road in Eagan after seeing his photo in a Facebook post announcing he had been missing.  

When news reached Lori Sager that he was found, there was nothing but relief, she said.

“It was pure joy that he was coming home and that all of your worst nightmares don’t become a reality,” she said.

His disappearance prompted a large response throughout the Twin Cities and parts of the state, with scores of volunteers offering to help in ground searches, hanging up fliers and sharing information on social media.

Michelle Witte, a Sager family friend, stayed by Lori Sager’s side throughout the incident and helped organize some of the search and outreach efforts. She said the family was blown away by the responses from law enforcement and the public for what she and others called “a parent’s worst nightmare.”

“It's good to know that when you're tested that your community is there for you,” she said.

George May, another family friend, said social media posts attracted thousands of shares, tips and responses on Wednesday, with strangers offering their time and resources to aide in the search.

“It got to a point where we had so many people trying to help that we couldn’t think of things for them to do,” he said. “That was quite moving.”

Woodbury Public Safety also deployed aerial drones equipped with cameras and infrared lenses in attempts to locate him — the first time the agency has utilized the technology.

The search was challenging because police first needed to establish a search area and attempt to check and recheck areas where he may have went, said Woodbury Police Spokeswoman Michelle Okada.

Authorities worried about Austin Sager’s safety in part due to him having a high-functioning type of autism. They described him as being trusting of others and that he may have gotten into a car with a stranger.

“There’s a vulnerability and not understanding the ways of the world always,” Lori Sager said.   

Austin Sager is part of the South Washington County Schools’ Next Step program.

Lori Sager said after an exhausting 24 hours, she and her son plan to try and pick up where we left off, move forward “and be thankful.”