by CHRIS ROGERS
Over 200 people gathered to pray for Madeline Kingsbury’s return last Friday. As the candlelight vigil drew to a close, her friends cried and held each other. Fond memories of her — a goofball, a social butterfly, a master’s student — and Kingsbury’s own beautiful singing voice filled the space. Friends and family members shared stories and photos of Maddi, a little girl sticking her tongue out, a loving mother playing with her kids in the pool, a proud bridesmaid.
The 26-year-old mother of two went missing on March 31 in Winona and has been the subject of extensive searches by authorities and volunteers across the region.
“As a youngster she started ‘The Madeline Show,’” Kingsbury’s older sister, Megan, recalled. “All the time, she was always performing or wanting to be centerstage, even if it was just in the mirror at home, one of her favorite spots to sing.” As the sisters grew older, they grew closer too. “Madeline has always been there for me, as she has for many others,” Megan said. “She’s always been the one to lend an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Never judgmental, always a safe place.” The baby of the Kingsbury family grew into a beautiful and accomplished young woman, Megan continued, always putting her two- and five-year-old children first, working at the Mayo Clinic, and recently starting a master’s of public health program at the University of Minnesota.
“[Maddi] was the kindest, most beautiful soul,” said Katie Kolka, one of Kingsbury’s best friends. The two bonded over Harry Potter, caring for the environment, and fro yo. “My eight-year-old daughter told me just how much she loves her Auntie Maddi and how she wants to be just like her when she grows up,” Kolka said.
“[Maddi] would be the first person to offer a helping hand and never expect anything back,” said fellow sorority sister Hailey Scott. Loving fiercely was both her greatest strength and her weakness, Scott said. She shared a quote from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series: “The ones who love us never really leave us. You can always find them …”
“Even on the brightest of days, it still feels dark and gloomy without [Madeline],” Kolka said. “… With your continued support, we are still hopeful we can bring her home.”
“It’s been 36 long days without Madeline, 36 days of turmoil as we continue to search for her …” Megan said. “No stone is being left unturned. No avenue is going unexplored … Thank you to law enforcement, the hundreds of volunteers, anyone who has graciously donated time, money, or services, and to the community in general for being so kind and welcoming to us in this time. The efforts that have gone into locating her have been astounding and will not stop until we bring her home.”
“There is currently a very active investigation into Madeline’s disappearance with assistance from local, county, state, and federal agencies,” said David Kingsbury, Madeline’s father. “And you can be proud of the men and women who keep watch over your community.”
Winona County Emergency Management Director Ben Klinger said over 50 agencies — fire departments, ambulance services, and police forces — have aided in the search. Divers, dogs, boats, planes, and helicopters have all been put to use, and organizations specializing in missing person searches from as far away as Texas have come to aid the investigation, he noted. “Keep the tips coming,” he said. Anyone with information may contact Minnesota Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or crimestoppersmn.org.
David Kingsbury continued, “We know that Madeline is around here somewhere. She just didn’t vanish … Someone took her. That much is certain. She would never leave her children. We have a firm commitment from law enforcement that they will not rest until she is found. We are anxious, but we have faith in the tireless men and women looking for her. If someone has harmed her, we are confident that justice will be served.”
David Kingsbury said he and the family have started to see why his daughter fell in love with this community. “You have taken her in and made her your family, just as you have embraced us as her family, and for that, we’re very grateful,” he told the crowd. He urged them, “Take what you heard about Madeline tonight as a call to arms. When you leave here tonight, you should be thinking, ‘Not here. Not in our town. Not in our county. Not in our state. Someone knows something. Someone saw something.’ Make this your battle cry. Where is Madeline? Where is she? Make it loud. Don’t stop until she is found.”
Friends and family of Madeline have been organizing volunteer searches and other support efforts via the “Finding Madeline Kingsbury” Facebook page.
A benefit event and silent auction to support Kingsbury’s family will be held on June 10 at 10 a.m. at the Witoka Tavern. Kolka said organizers are asking businesses to consider donating items or experiences to be auctioned. Donations may be dropped off at 772 West King Street in Winona between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
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