Marc Welzant's memory will live on in many ways-including when 12-year-old Sierra Hartung of Brainerd rides her new three-wheeled bicycle around.
The bright royal blue Schwinn was owned by Welzant, a Brainerd man who went missing over two years ago. His remains were recently located in a wooded area off Business Highway 371 south of Brainerd.
The Welzant family decided to donate Marc's bicycle and chose Sierra as she also has a developmental disability like Marc did. Sierra is deaf and has cerebral palsy.
"Marc would be so happy," Marc's four sisters-Mary Peterson, Jane Long, Barb Herbst and Sue Kleman-said Tuesday as they saw how much Sierra enjoyed riding the bicycle around her residence.
"Marc loved to give people things they like," Kleman said as the sisters nodded in agreement.
Long said Marc purchased the three-wheeled bike with his own money. She said he had a traditional bike, but couldn't ride it anymore because he was physically becoming unsteady. He then started to save money for a three-wheeled bike as it would be able to more steadily hold him up.
"He saved up money for a while," Long said. "He earned money by going on walks and collecting pop cans. He just got the bike like five years ago and I don't think he used it too many times."
Herbst said, "He rode it like three times."
Kleman said the family wanted to donate the bicycle to someone who needed it, like their brother Marc did. Kleman knew about Sierra's condition through Sierra's grandmother and thought Sierra was the perfect candidate.
"Marc Welzant's family has given us such a wonderful gift," Sierra's mom Kimberly Hartung said. "This is so special and it means so much to us. They chose Sierra and now Marc can live on through Sierra a little bit, every time this bike is used. ... This was perfect timing with spring and Sierra can fully enjoy it.
"I didn't know that Marc saved his own money for this bike, this makes it so much more special."
Sierra, who is a sixth-grader at Forestview Middle School in Baxter said "I must be a really special girl to get this bike.
"I will get to make some happy memories with my family while I ride this bike and this bike will keep me safe so I don't fall."
History of Marc's disappearance
Marc was last seen the afternoon of Oct. 26, 2014, when he left his residential group home. Marc was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome at 2 years of age, a rare genetic disorder that can result in a range of physical, mental and behavioral problems.
Marc was recorded on video at the Holiday Gas Station on South Sixth Street in Brainerd shortly before 3 p.m. on the day he went missing. Then at 4:30 p.m., Brainerd police received a report from a group of people who saw Marc heading west on the walking trail at Kiwanis Park.
Initial searches included the areas of Kiwanis Park to the Buster Dog Park, the Buffalo Hills Trail, behind the Brainerd Water Plant, as well as the woods between the Mississippi River to Central Lakes College. Additional searches were conducted throughout the years he was missing.
Welzant's remains were located March 25 on private property not far from the Mississippi River in an undeveloped wooded area about 2 miles south and west from where he was last seen. Marc's brother Dave Welzant said a close family member found the remains while walking on the property.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office are assisting the Brainerd Police Department on the case. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office recently released the preliminary cause and manner of Marc's death is undetermined and there are no preliminary indications that foul play was involved.
Benefit for Sierra
A benefit is being planned for Sierra from 4-8 p.m. May 13 at Forestview Middle School in Baxter to help with expenses for her to get a service dog.
When Sierra was 6 months old, she started having seizures, developed brain damage and cerebral palsy. During a recent hospitalization visit, it was discovered Sierra was having abnormal brain activity while she slept, which is dangerous because she could accidently suffocate herself, Kimberly Hartung said.
Hartung said she has had to sleep next to her daughter every night to keep her safe. She said a service dog would be trained in seizure recognition and help Sierra be in a safe position and get help for her when needed. Sierra does not qualify for any of the service dog programs in Minnesota because of her age, but a program in Ohio agreed to work with her. Money from the benefit will help pay the required $18,000 fee, travel and work loss time for when the family goes to Ohio for two weeks for training.
Hartung said, "Training for the dog will not start until all of the money is raised and the training will take at least a year. Along with the training to identify seizures, the dog will also need to be trained as a hearing dog."
The benefit in May will include a silent auction and a dinner with Sierra's favorite food, to include pizza, cheese bread, fruit, pasta salad and cookies. Hartung said businesses have donated food and auction items for the benefit, but the family is still accepting more if people are interested in donating. Those who want to donate to the benefit can contact Hartung at email@example.com or call her at 320-267-1069.
Those who want to help but can't attend the benefit can donate to a benefit account set up at U.S. Bank. People can donate to the "Sierra's Benefit" account at any U.S. Bank.