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Family pleads for help in finding missing Duluth couple

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Karl Tarnowski hugs his wife, Bev Tarnowski, at the Duluth home of his parents, Ron and Mary Tarnowski, who have been missing since Saturday. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 2

About four years ago, Karl Tarnowski built a new house for his parents adjacent to his own home along Norton Road in upper Kenwood.

His dad, Ron, is 82 years old and has early stage dementia. His mom, Mary, 78, suffers from right-side paralysis and has difficulty speaking.

At the new home, Karl and his wife, Bev, could check in every morning, noon and night to visit his parents and tend to their medical needs.

"We've been taking care of them," Karl Tarnowski said, "and I thought we were doing a good job."

The family is now at a loss. Ron and Mary haven't been seen since Saturday. They left with no warning and few clues to help police in the search.

Mary and Ronald Tarnowski

Karl Tarnowski said it's highly unusual for his parents. They generally spend most time at home, going out only for an occasional meal at nearby restaurants. Less frequently, they'd take a trip to Park Point or Brighton Beach.

"They sit in chairs next to each other all day," Karl said. "The only freedom they have is to run to Arby's down the road."

The couple was last seen around 11 a.m. Saturday at the Wells Fargo branch near Haines Road and Miller Trunk Highway. They were not carrying cellphones or credit cards, and an OnStar system in their vehicle was not activated.

The family and police are asking the public to be on the lookout for the couple's vehicle: a pewter 2005 Chevrolet Tahoe with black plastic fender flares with Minnesota license plate 852JXG.

"We have been searching everywhere," said Karl Tarnowski. "We've been down a lot of roads, but we haven't been down your road. When you leave your home in the morning, when you return from work in the daytime, when you go in the evening to you kids' soccer game, please look for that Tahoe."

Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken joined the family and friends for a Wednesday afternoon news conference outside the couple's home.

Tusken said police have been searching in and around every place the couple is known to visit, but the lack of information has made it almost impossible to narrow a search area. He said about 20 tips also have come in, ranging from the Twin Cities to Silver Bay and Grand Rapids to Ashland.

Potentially the most promising came in Wednesday morning, Tusken said. A truck driver reported seeing an elderly couple in a matching vehicle driving west at an unusually slow speed along U.S. Highway 2 near Brookston on Saturday. The potential sighting came about four hours after the Tarnowskis were last seen at the bank.

"One of our challenges from the onset was that it was such a broad search," Tusken said. "Usually we have a direction of travel, we have something. Until today we didn't even really have a good direction. We don't know that that's going to be the clue that we need to solve this, but at least it appears to be somewhat credible and the timeframes match up with when they were last seen."

A "silver alert" also has been issued for the entire state of Minnesota and western Wisconsin. The alert goes not only to law enforcement agencies but also businesses such as gas stations and hotels.

The couple long lived in the Duluth Heights neighborhood before moving to their son's property. Ron Tarnowski was a Duluth firefighter for 31 years, retiring at the rank of captain. Mary was a stay-at-home mother to two boys, Karl and Kurt.

"Mary is very sweet and gentle-natured, kind," Bev Tarnowski said of her mother-in-law. "Just a little sweetie."

Of his father, Karl Tarnowski said: "(He's) a very stern guy, very opinionated. But when it boils down to it, he has a heart of gold."

The Duluth Police Department is asking anyone with potential information to call 911. Anyone seeing a vehicle matching the description of the Tahoe also is asked to take a photograph to share with investigators.

Tusken said the police department has the Minnesota State Patrol, Department of National Resources and National Guard at its disposal for an aerial search, but a more manageable area first needs to be established.

"We will work in earnest and we will work continuously with the family," Tusken said. "We will solve this. We will find Ron and Mary, and we won't sleep until we do."

A Facebook page has been set up for the search.

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