The woman approached the grieving father at a restaurant in Eagan last month.

“You’re Ken Buchanan!” she proclaimed.

“You know me?” he asked, confused.

Eagan is a small community; their kids had attended dance classes together, she reminded him. The woman said she had heard about the tragic loss of his 19-year-old son, Elijah: After Elijah mysteriously disappeared in November, a family friend created a Facebook page called “Bring Elijah Home.” Fifteen days after he went missing, Elijah’s frozen body was found Dec. 13 in a densely wooded area about a half-mile from his home; his death — of hypothermia — was ruled an accident.

The Buchanans — a family of strong Christian faith — are grieving, but they also believe that Elijah is home now, in heaven. Instead of shutting down the Facebook page, Buchanan renamed it “Divine Fingerprints” and started a blog with the same name. has become a father’s sacred writing space, a public memorial, a meditation on love, loss and faith.

“We wanted to spread inspirational news about the impact that was Elijah’s life as well as his death, focusing on God’s fingerprints in things we had not before noticed,” Buchanan said. “So the name change refocused the Facebook page to be a place of inspiration rather than desperation.”

Buchanan realized it was working when the woman stopped him at the restaurant.

“I read your blog every day,” she said. “I lost my husband several years ago. You have no idea how meaningful it is for me.”

In this way, Elijah lives on.


Melanie Buchanan, Elijah’s mom, has never experienced Easter so personally before.

“I feel like what Mary must have went through,” she said, tearfully, as she sat in the kitchen of her Eagan home on the Monday of Holy Week. “I’ve lost a lot of people in my life — I’ve lost my mom — but there is no pain as great as this one. No, there’s nothing.

"We call it the Hundred Acre Wood, from the Pooh series which Elijah loved," said Kenneth Buchanan as he looks out over his 3-acre backyard in

“We call it the Hundred Acre Wood, from the Pooh series which Elijah loved,” said Kenneth Buchanan as he looks out over his 3-acre backyard in Eagan on Thursday March 26, 2015. Their home is near Patrick Eagan Park, where Elijah was found. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

The loss of a child — it’s so deep.”Melanie, 57, a nurse and flight attendant, and Ken, also 57, a health care consultant, have four other children: Tina Atkinson, 31; Brittany Kirsch, 26; Briana, 22; and Isaiah, 17.

Atkinson was 11 when Elijah was born.

“I was in the room when he came into the world,” Atkinson said. “I was the first person to hold him after he was born.”

As a young child, Elijah was vibrant and funny, healthy and strong, academically and athletically gifted; the darkness came later, when he was 15 and suffered two back-to-back concussions. Slowly, he healed, with lots of ups and downs. Those later years included behavior problems, school problems, depression, marijuana use, mischief and paranoia. In the last months of his life, Elijah began passionately praying and reading the Bible.

“He had come into his faith,” Atkinson said.

Elijah texted his sister about his spiritual epiphany.

“He wrote, ‘No one is doing as much as they truly could be to spread God’s word,’ ” Atkinson said. “He said, ‘I have what it takes.’ “

Atkinson replied that she would pray for God to direct his heart.

At 1:42 p.m. Nov. 27, Elijah replied: “Thank you for praying and I love you very much never forget it.”

The next day, Elijah disappeared.


On Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, Elijah felt unwell. He hadn’t been sleeping; he hadn’t been eating. About 6 p.m., he became agitated.

Ken Buchanan shows a Thanksgiving 2014 photo of his family, including Elijah, second from left (in blue hat and shirt). (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

Ken Buchanan shows a Thanksgiving 2014 photo of his family, including Elijah, second from left (in blue hat and shirt). (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

“He suddenly became reactionary and started toppling furniture, mumbling, almost in a kind of strange, trance-like state,” said Ken Buchanan, who was home alone with his two sons that evening.

Elijah calmed down, only to go into another manic type of episode about 11 p.m.

This time, Buchanan called 911.

“Something was wrong with this boy, some kind of psychotic break,” Buchanan said. “I needed help.”

But Elijah fled.

“Elijah took that call as a threat to him instead of help,” Buchanan said.

The family still isn’t sure what happened to Elijah that night.

“I can’t explain it,” his father said. “But my belief is that his TBI (traumatic brain injury from the concussions) created a weakness in his brain that lack of sleep and food triggered.

Ken Buchanan on Thursday, March 26, 2015, shows the heavy picture Elijah carried out the door with him when he left his Eagan home. (Pioneer Press: Jean

Ken Buchanan on Thursday, March 26, 2015, shows the heavy picture Elijah carried out the door with him when he left his Eagan home. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

He wasn’t thinking normally, and was irrational.”At first, the Buchanans thought Elijah might have gone into hiding; perhaps he was staying with a friend. As more days passed, the “Bring Elijah Home” page was created on Facebook.

“It was a community attempt to spread the word nationally to help locate him if he had been fleeing somewhere,” Buchanan said.

But on Dec. 13, the Dakota County Special Operations Team — made up of police, fire and EMS workers who are trained in urban search and rescue — found Buchanan’s body deep in the woods of Patrick Eagan Park.

A police detective and a chaplain came to the family’s house to break the news.

“The minute I saw their faces, I knew,” Buchanan said. “It was the worst moment of my life.”

A preliminary investigation indicated that Elijah succumbed to the weather conditions the night he left home, according to Eagan police. This was confirmed by an autopsy, conducted by the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office. Elijah’s manner of death is listed as an accident; the cause of death was hypothermia. Toxicology results came back with no indication of drugs in Elijah’s system, according to authorities.

Later on Dec. 13, a family friend updated the “Bring Elijah Home” page. It read, in part: “Elijah’s spirit now resides in us all.”


Buchanan’s first blog post, “Life on Purpose,” was posted Jan. 20; his most recent post, “How Will History Record Your Passion?,” was published Thursday.

“I am seeing God’s triumph working out of our terrible tragedy,” Buchanan wrote in the Thursday post. “Since you are reading this post, you are one of more than fifteen thousand visits to this blog site over the past two months. Elijah’s Facebook page, Divine Fingerprints, has already reached over half a million!”

Readers go beyond Minnesota; these fingerprints have touched people as far away as Swaziland and Switzerland. Comments have included:

“Thank you for sharing this path you are walking.”

“Your post is what I needed today.”

“Thank you for reminding us of God’s presence everywhere and all the time.”


“Great truth.”

This ripple effect has made Elijah’s sister reconsider her definition of a legacy.

“I had this idea that your legacy is your family, your children, or maybe because you’re a leader,” Atkinson said. “I always thought that people who left a legacy lived a long, full life. But, even though Elijah died at a young age, I feel like his legacy is still going. It’s amazing.”


The soaring windows of the great room in the Buchanan family home overlook the deep woods where Elijah is believed to have disappeared. At first, this was unbearable to his mother.

“I couldn’t even look outside,” Melanie Buchanan said.

Her husband wrote about how that perspective changed; the entry, titled “Where Do You Find Your Happy Place?,” was published Feb. 25 and remains one of the blog’s most popular posts:

“For two weeks we did not know where Elijah was,” Ken Buchanan wrote. “For two weeks, his body lay in those woods, exposed to the weather and the animals. When I feel cold temperatures, I am easily brought to tears thinking of Elijah exposed to the freezing cold. And I cannot bring myself to visit the place in the woods where he perished. How will I ever find a happy place when confronted with such a bad place?

“As it turns out, there is a happy place big enough to handle the awfulness of those bad things.

“My wife Melanie helped me to understand that the place where Elijah rested was a place of God’s protection. I know that sounds odd. But when we were informed by police of Elijah’s death, we were also told that he was perfectly preserved. No animals had touched him. His body had not decayed. Melanie had a vision that God’s angels stood guard over that place. It was a place where God met Elijah to carry him to his eternal home in heaven.”

Because of this angelic vision, Elijah’s mother can look out her window again.

“Now I look at it as holy ground,” she said.

On Easter, Elijah’s family plans to walk into the woods together.

“We haven’t been out in the woods; we haven’t been to the place where he was found,” Atkinson said. “I think we’ll walk out there and …”

Her voice breaks.

“… and celebrate and be sad and just a mix of everything,” she said. “The only reason we’re sad is because we miss Elijah. But we know our goodbye is not forever. Easter is the reason it’s temporary; Easter represents a conquering of death and sin; it represents the promise of eternal life. Easter is why our family will be reunited in heaven.”

Molly Guthrey can be reached at or 651-228-5505.