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John Hageman, Forum News Service, Published March 22 2013

Family, friends celebrate missing man's birthday

BEMIDJI – Matthew Charles Pulis was born 32 years ago Thursday.

Friends and family in two northern Minnesota cities marked the occasion by praying for answers to why he disappeared in October, leaving behind few clues. And ultimately, they hoped for his return.

“This is not a memorial service whatsoever,” said Pulis’ sister Steph Kniefel. She was in their hometown of Mountain Iron Thursday night for a Mass of special intentions at the local Catholic church.

“The family’s thought right now is that if there is enough people praying at one time, maybe we’ll get some answers,” Kniefel said.

Meanwhile, friends and co-workers in Bemidji released 32 balloons from Paul Bunyan Park Thursday night.

“We don’t know where Matt is tonight, but we’re going to celebrate his birthday,” said Keith Willard, pastor at Real Life Christian Fellowship, during the ceremony Thursday. As the balloons were set free, those gathered exclaimed, “Happy birthday!”

Kniefel said there were many people who wanted to be in Mountain Iron, but couldn’t make the 2.5-hour drive. Kniefel was approached by Ashley Puffe, a co-worker from McDonald’s where both she and Pulis worked, who asked if they could hold an event in Bemidji.

“I almost actually started crying, and I said ‘Of course,’” Kniefel said. “Then I was kind of torn, I kind of wanted to stay here … but I just felt like my place is with my family tonight.”

Many of Pulis’ family and friends are still in Mountain Iron. Kniefel said Pulis spent much of his life in that area before moving to Bemidji in 2010.

Pulis hasn’t been seen since Oct. 20 in downtown Bemidji. In January, authorities renewed their request for the public’s help finding him.

At that time, officers had already conducted a 200-block search and performed an aerial search above Lake Bemidji and Lake Irvine, as well as searching his residence.

Bemidji police detective Mike Solheim, the lead contact in the case, said Thursday not much new information has come up in recent weeks.

“No good leads as far as knowing what happened to him,” Solheim said.

Pulis is described as a Caucasian male, about 5-foot-7, and 165 pounds with longer, light-brown hair. He was last seen wearing a dark blue hooded sweatshirt.

Anyone with information is asked to call the police at 333-9111 or toll-free at 888-449-9111.