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Search continues for Lake Villa man missing since Sept. 20

Nick Steward’s parents Kathy DSteward address members Chicago-aremediwho came out Sunday report search for 33-year-old Lake Villresident. | DAN MORAN~SUN-TIMES

Nick Steward’s parents, Kathy and Don Steward, address members of the Chicago-area media who came out on Sunday, to report on a search for the 33-year-old Lake Villa resident. | DAN MORAN~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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More than a week since he went missing, Nick Steward’s parents realized there was only so much they could do on their own to find their son.

On Sunday, they stood in a Riverwoods Road parking lot in Lake Forest and watched more than 100 volunteers arrive to launch a search designed to cover 225 square miles.

“They already had a plan, they already talked to the police, they already put everything in motion before we ever found out about it,” Don Steward said as the crowd gathered just before noon. “They established a grid system all along the tollway. . . . The purpose of today is to go through all these different areas to see if his car can be found.”

Nick Steward, 33, was last seen on Sept. 20 as he left his job at MC Machinery Systems Inc. in northwest suburban Wood Dale. Steward’s wife, Megan, received a text about 5 p.m. that said he was heading home to Lake Villa in the north suburbs, according to Matt Liebgott, one of the organizers of Sunday’s search.

At 5:28 p.m. that day, Steward’s I-PASS transponder and his cellphone recorded the location of his 2008 Saturn Auraas the Touhy Toll Plaza on the northbound Tri-State Tollway near Des Plaines, Liebgott said.

“It pinged as he passed. That’s the last-known cell ping that we have of his phone,” Liebgott said.

He said Steward’s financial and personal information have been tracked since Sept. 20 and there “continued to be no activity on those” through Saturday.

Sunday’s search, which started just off the Tri-State in the parking lot at CDW in Lake Forest, was constructed around a grid with 17 areas running from Steward’s Lake Villa residence southeast to Wood Dale.

Volunteers selected regions to cover and picked up informational fliers and maps from stations set up on one end of a parking lot. They were asked to put up fliers in public areas and keep their eyes open for anything associated with Steward, including his white Saturn, his iPhone 4s and a laptop assigned to him by MC Machinery.

Marsha Marko and Caren Geimer, who know the Steward family as congregants at St. Mary of Vernon in Indian Creek, said they planned to focus on two grids near the Touhy Toll Plaza that included Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Park Ridge.

Geimer said they have been “putting up fliers everywhere and anywhere” since Steward’s disappearance, trying to cover areas near northbound Tri-State exits that don’t have tollbooths and wouldn’t record Steward’s transponder.

“People have been really receptive. I’ve been surprised,” Marko said. Owners of some businesses who agreed to put up fliers told her Marko that “usually they don’t, but they would because it’s a human being and they want to help get the word out.”

Steward’s family credited a “Find Nick Steward” campaign on Facebook for turning what had been a modest search into the operation seen on Sunday.

“There have been smaller groups that have gone out, one or two cars with groups of friends both last week Saturday and Tuesday, but nothing of this magnitude,” Don Steward said. “I think they just took it from that starting point and multiplied it to do this type of search.”

“Those are all his best friends,” said Steward’s mother, Kathy, nodding toward the crowd.

“He went to school with most of them,” Don Steward said. “He’s known some of them for 20 years.”

Megan Steward spoke to the volunteers through a bullhorn, thanking them for their efforts.

“From the bottom of my heart, I am just so stunned by the outreach and the support from the community and just everyone who has been just so wonderful to us,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll find something that will help us today and bring Nick home to us.”

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